How many friends do you actually need?

When it comes to fulfilling friendships, it turns out quality trumps quantity.

Think about how many friends you have.

Can you count them on one hand or are you more the kind of person with an endless contact list in your phone that you can call anytime?

You might not need as many as you think to be happy and healthy.

Why everyone needs good friends

Social connection is not just about fun times; friendships have health benefits too, such as living longer, having better mental health, and a stronger heart.

On the flip side, poor social relationships increase the risk of depression, dementia, heart disease, strokes, and emergency department visits.

Despite the benefits, many Australians do not get enough social connection, Swinburne University clinical psychologist Dr Michelle Lim says.

One in two Australians reports feeling lonely at least one day a week, and one in four feels alone three days or more, her research reveals.

“One in four Australians report what we call problematic levels of loneliness,” she says.

“And that’s a bit of a concern because there’s a lot of emerging research that basically says that loneliness predicts poorer health outcomes.

“It increases our odds of having clinical depression or clinical social anxiety, so loneliness is something we need to address.”

The problem is also likely to have worsened amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to experts – which is why focusing on friendships will be crucial in the future.

But how many friends do we really need?

Three to five is the magic number, to make you feel happy and satisfied, according to research.

But Happy Healthy Clinic psychologist Margi Matters says maintaining even just one quality friend may be a stretch, given it has become harder to make face-to-face friends in today’s busy technology age.

“One close friend is enough if that’s a really quality relationship where you get sufficient support and connection with each other,” Margi says.

“If you have three, you’re doing really well, five is pretty amazing in today’s world.”

But what if you’ve got hundreds of Facebook friends?

Unfortunately, in most cases most of these will be acquaintances rather than the deep genuine friendships we need, Margi says.

Dr Lim agrees, saying in the end it’s about “quality not quantity”.

Ten tips on how to make friends

  1. Remember new friendships take time to build.
  2. Brush up on your small talk.
  3. Be confident but not cocky.
  4. Ask questions and listen.
  5. Be persistent but not pushy.
  6. Be authentic and genuine.
  7. Don’t embellish or lie to impress new friends.
  8. Be open but don’t overshare too soon.
  9. Smile and be approachable.
  10. Join groups where you can meet people with similar interests.

Written by Alex White.