The Hard Facts: Ten Is the Friendliest Number

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The midlife wellbeing of both men and women seems to depend on having a wide circle of friends whom they see regularly, finds research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.” (“Wide Circle of Friends Key to Mid-Life Well-Being For Both Sexes” ; Science Daily 8/22/2012)

I’m never surprised anymore by just how influential friends are to a person’s health. But I am still fascinated by how much more  important friendship is than other relationships.

In this study, the authors found that having a network of relatives is also important for mid-life well-being…but only for men. For the ladies, it’s friends, friends, friends. “For women, lack of friends had an even greater impact on wellbeing. [Psychological wellbeing] was 4 points lower if they had no friends. But a lack of relatives had no emotional impact.”

I wonder what that’s about? I mean, I adore my friends–obvi–but I like having close relatives, too. I really do get the impression that having a close family makes me happy, though now I wonder if that happiness boost is statistically significant.

I’m also interested in the fact that this study gives actual numbers. So often these bits of research just refer to more friends or fewer friends, bigger social networks or smaller ones. What does that mean? What constitutes a lot of friends? What constitutes low-levels of social integration?. Come on folks. Specifics. Please.

Here’s how these researchers define it: “Compared with those with 10 or more regular contacts, smaller networks of friends at the age of 45 were associated with significantly lower levels of psychological wellbeing for both sexes.”

This is fairly serious. Ten regular contacts is a lot. Isn’t it? I don’t have a good gauge of what life at 45 is like, but it seems to me that regular contact with 10 people—especially at a time where you are likely to be juggling a family and a job on top of those social contacts—is a lot to shoot for.

But, still, it’s doable. And I like inspiring tangible goals. So for those of you wondering how many friends you need to be happy, I have your answer: TEN.

Now go schedule a playdate.

Do you have ten or more regular social contacts? Does that seem like a reasonable number, or too ambitious?

 

 

17 Comments

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17 responses to “The Hard Facts: Ten Is the Friendliest Number

  1. Cindy

    I think ten is an ambitious number of friendships to maintain at age 45, for the reasons you mentioned. Maybe it would be more achievable for someone who didn’t have children. Now that I’m older and my kids are grown, my number has increased, but I don’t have ten good friends even now, and I think I’m happy!

  2. tunie

    “…having a network of relatives is also important for mid-life well-being…but only for men. For the ladies, it’s friends, friends, friends. “For women, lack of friends had an even greater impact on wellbeing. [Psychological wellbeing] was 4 points lower if they had no friends. But a lack of relatives had no emotional impact.”

    I wonder what that’s about?

    Easy: men are accustomed to being taken care of by relatives, women know that THEY will be the ones responsible for relatives…no one is going to be making sure their needs are met – so we see a lack of relatives as a relief, lol, and it is our friends, (other women, usually), who actually care about our needs. Kidding, but only just a little.

  3. Define regularly. Does it count if I see them every May 3?

    I think friends are more important than relatives, because friends CHOOSE to have you in their lives. If you have friends, you know there is something likable and attractive about you.

  4. Yeah, this research just makes me feel… tired. Did it say anything about what “regular contact” meant? I’m close to a few people at work, whom I see most days, but only catching up on personal stuff for brief stretches of time (rarely outside of work), and a few friends, who I chat with or see once a week… So, six? I would also like to know with most of this research if 10 is the average–does it account for differences of preference or personality? I’m an introvert and can feel drained by too much “regular contact”… ;)

  5. I’m curious: Where do you usually look for research? I’d like to be in the know as well! :)

    I think 10 is too many, no matter the age. I am not middle-aged, and I don’t have that many “close” friends. I have maybe five or so… though I’m really friendly with everyone.

    Does the study indicate whether a sibling or close relative can be counted as a friend? Many people choose friends in their relatives– and rightly so. This is especially true in countries outside of the U.S.

  6. I think my parents had the most friends when they were in their 40s because they were friends with the parents of me and my younger brother. They had their childhood best friends, and then they had a circle in our hometown, but it wasn’t really friends they made themselves, it was like friends by association.

    Now that they’re even older (late 50s) their friends are mostly those from work (my mom at least) but yeah, neither of them seem to have a lot of friends. My mom has more than my dad. I guess that’s normal, but I wonder how many people later in life are friends with the same people or if it constantly keeps changing.

  7. I’m in this demographic… and gee, this number seems too high for me. I’m a mom and am married and I work two jobs. I talk to people about the intimate aspsects of their lives all day long and could not see having 10 more people to regularly attend to. I am happy if I have a play date with a good friend 2x a month. Then again, I am very engaged with people in general and enjoy meaningful and spontaneous connections – I find them fascinating. If I want to, I can get into a mini-conversation anywhere I go. I wonder if these random contacts count or if the contacts need to be with ongoing friends?

  8. Ivana

    Everybody needs at least 4 to 8 good friends, adding another 2 for a psychological wellbeing is a great bonus. As women, especially, we need a good number of friends for a a compete and healthy sense of self, as well as a boost in self esteem. You’d be amazed at how the odd coffee or lunch with a friend leaves a lasting smile on your face and a huge impact your overall wellbeing for that day. There is no harm in being a friend collector, but keep the good ones.

  9. Friendshipforsexygirlfriends.

  10. I think ten is a high number but probably good to aim for. For me, my oldest friends often have limited time because of family obligations. I am often frustrated by their having to cancel plans at the last minute. I’ve made newer friends along the way and we are drawn together by particular interests and end up becoming good friends.
    I don’t think it is realistic to have a very intimate relationship with all ten, but probably there are certain areas where certain people connect more than others. And then there are certain people I see regularly and we may not necessarily talk very intimately, but we see each other at activities and have a bond from that.

  11. Way too ambitious for me – I’m struggling to find 1 close friend. I have about 4 casual acquantainces I share jokes with & talk to once in a while.

  12. I believe that the best friend is only one, but we can have more than ten friends…let’s think about our creek, our abroad studies and all people we meet during our life and with who we keep in touch…more than ten, surely!
    the experience of studying different languages and culture open our minds too, and it can give us the opportunity of a cultural meeting. Sitting at the same table with all over the world people, is the best experience i have ever had!

  13. I’m not far off 45, and I’ll tell you that ten regular contacts is an awful lot. Keeping up with ten people is time consuming and uses up a lot of energy. It would be impossible to be good friends with all of them. I have ten friends, but I hardly speak to them regularly. It’s enough to know that they are there if I really need them. But I’m probably only regularly in touch with a handful and even those sporadically. Too busy with kids, life, school runs, chores and work to contemplate much else.

  14. Laura

    Oh man. I think the key is regularly. That’s what? Once a month? I have 5 friends that I see at least once a month, all of them in committed relationships to men that my husband would also consider a friend. Sometimes we see each other as couples, sometime its just the girls. There are probably 5 other single women that I see for a coffee or a drink every couple of months, but not regularly. I think part of the reason for the irregularity is that I ask them to hang out and then they don’t really reciprocate. So I wait a couple months and then remember its been awhile and call again. :-S With the couple friends my husband usually initiates the more regular hangouts.

  15. Ladysas

    10 seems like too much; friendship takes a lot of time and effort and sometimes you have to be very thick skinned. I’m having enough trouble trying to build a solid friendship with 2 women who invited me to be their BFF (their term not mine, since to me a BFF is the “one” and we are three). I enjoy both of them so I’m working at this BFF of Three. It’s been two years and it’s still rocky, I thought I had friendship all figured out as I’m in my 50s but it’s still a mystery. My casual friends (10+) are much easier.

  16. Kenia

    What about relatives who are more like friends than anything? I wonder how those get classified (“relatives,” “friends,” “friend-like BFF relatives”??)… I have 3 female cousins with whom I feel VERY close too, in the BFF sort of way. It’s the best girl time when we’re together. :)

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