- There are seven basic types of friendships and they all have value.
- Feeling that you are part of a larger community can positively affect life satisfaction and longevity.
- Making the effort to connect and communicate with those who "people your life" can change your own life for the better.
There’s no doubt that social connections are important to our happiness. When you think of important friendships, which of your relationships spring to mind first? Your best friend from childhood whom you haven’t seen in years, but when you hear their name, it conjures up vivid memories of your shared exploits and a case of the warm fuzzies? Or your current “band of brothers” or “girl squad” who have your back, no matter what? Maybe it’s your super tight network of co-workers with whom you spend more than half your waking hours, five or six days a week? Or the neighbors that you hang with as you watch the kids play, the dogs romp, the coffee perk, or the grass grow? Maybe your BFF is also your forever partner, for better or worse?
All of these friendships are important. Data from a recent survey exploring friendship networks revealed that most of us, regardless of age, have cultivated a wide variety of social relationships. Here’s an overview of the specific friendship types that were explored:
- Lifelong Friends
- Best Friends
- Close Friends
- Social Group Friends (friends you socialize with but with whom you are not particularly close)
- Activity Friends (friends with whom you engage in specific activities, such as “gym buddies,” members of your book club or dinner club, church circles, and so on)
- Friends of Convenience (the folks with whom you might share carpooling duties, youth sports team parents, neighborhood groups, and so on)
- Acquaintance Friends (people at work, people you see each day when you’re walking your dog, folks you know to speak to, but not about anything of consequence or especially personal)
Do You Need One of Each?
To thrive in an increasingly isolating world, it’s helpful to have connections with others that reflect varying degrees of closeness. In fact, regardless of age, having friends of all types was positively related to life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is a global measure of subjective well-being often used to assess happiness and quality of life. The connection between social engagement and longevity, psychological and physical health, and overall contentment has been the subject of much research. Not only are these variables important to happiness, but research also indicates that novelty affects life satisfaction, as well (Buchanan & Bardi, 2010). This finding underscores the value of having a variety of social interactions in the course of your week: This will invite opportunities to engage in different ways with different people, which brings novelty into your life. Regardless of where you are in your life, age-wise, stage-wise, or location-wise, it’s important to cultivate a multi-faceted network of friendships. This also invites diverse people into your life who can help you grow beyond your comfort zone and encourage you to learn about other perspectives and ways of looking at and living life.
How Many Friends Do You Need?
The number of friends we tend to have among the different types isn’t really determined by our age, our relationship status, or whether or not we live alone. You’re never too old to create the friendships you need to help support your mental health and social well-being. About half of the people in the study felt that they had too few close friends, the other half felt they had plenty. And a couple felt they had too many.
Another finding is that each of us has highly individual needs related to how many friends we feel is the “right” number. If you don’t believe you have enough friends, how many do you think would be the “right” number to have? Among survey respondents who felt they currently had “too few” friends, the desired number varied greatly. Some people felt that having 2 or 3 close friends would be just right. Others felt that having 4 to 6 would be best. A few even believed 7 or more close friends would be the perfect number.
So, your next question might be, how many friends do people who feel they have “enough” close friends actually have? Well, of the group, 10% had just one close friend and found that to be enough. About half of this group had 2 or 3 close friends and were totally satisfied with that number. Another third of the group had 4 to 6 friends and the remaining participants—about 10% of the total—had 7 or more. While none of us need the same number of friends, we all need close friends for support.
Which Friends are Most Essential for Our Happiness?
During the height of the pandemic when we were unable to gather together with the people we cared most about, the number of acquaintance friends in our networks was the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. Being isolated from others left us eager for social interaction, even if we were masked up and six-feet apart from the person who was dropping off our groceries and the other dog walkers in the park. Over the last 6-8 months, as guidelines and restrictions have loosened, the unexpectedly strong value of acquaintance friends has also lessened somewhat. The number of acquaintance friends we have is positively correlated with our level of life satisfaction, but the number of lifelong friends, best friends and close friends we have are the strongest predictors of overall contentment with life.
Does a Friendly Smile and Pleasant Word Change Your Life?
There’s value in weaving ourselves into a web of connection with others in our community. Everyone’s neighbor, Fred Rogers, always focused on the inherent value of each person in our neighborhood, no matter what role they played. These current findings fully support the benefits of being engaged with all of the folks who fill our lives in the course of a week. There is a lot to gain from the deep, intimate conversations you enjoy with your closest friends as well as from friendly greetings or brief chats you offer to your mailperson or Amazon driver, the dog walkers who pass your window, the cashier at the pharmacy, the folks who are always on the same train on your commute, and even the annoying kids who run across your lawn. Engaging with others and establishing a connection, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, can make a positive difference in your overall well-being. Smile more, engage more, and live a longer and happier life.
If you'd like to share your experiences with social relationships and friendships, please consider participating in this study: Social Relationships and the Pandemic
Facebook image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Degges-White, S. (in process). The Effects of the Pandemic on Social Relationships. Ongoing study related to the ways in which the pandemic affected social and romantic relationships
Buchanan, K. E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Acts of Kindness and Acts of Novelty Affect Life Satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150, 235-237, DOI: 10.1080/00224540903365554