Social circles were shrinking even before the pandemic.
For years, friendship in America has been in decline, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. Three decades ago, 3 percent of Americans said they had no close friends; in 2021, an online poll put it at 12 percent. About a year into the pandemic, 13 percent of women and 8 percent of men age 30 to 49 said they’d lost touch with most of their friends.
There are health implications to all of this. Friendship can be an important factor in well-being since loneliness and social isolation can be associated with an increased risk for conditions like depression and anxiety or heart disease and stroke. In fact, one expert concluded that loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
But how many? Apparently, somewhere between three and six close friends may be the sweet spot. But, if your goal is simply to lessen the harmful effect of loneliness on your health, have at least one important person in your life – whether that’s a spouse, a parent or a friend. One is WAY better than none. But if you want to have the most meaningful life, one where you feel bonded and connected to others, more friends are better.
Other estimates suggest people who have six or more friends have improved health throughout their lives. And middle-aged women who have three or more friends tended to have higher levels of overall life satisfaction.
If you’re wondering if Facebook friends count, the size of a person’s online network may not have any meaningful impact on their well-being. While many friendships have faded during the pandemic, many people have found connections online.
Different people bring out different parts of us. So when you have a larger friend group, you’re able to experience the side of yourself that loves golf, and the side of yourself that loves cars, and the side of yourself that loves flowers. If you feel like your identity has sort of shrunk, or you’re not feeling quite like yourself, that might indicate you need different types of friends.