Off the top of your head, how many friends do you have? This number will encompass best friends, close friends, casual friends and acquaintances.
The final number, of course, will vary from person to person. How many friends do you personally need to feel fulfilled? According to evolutionary psychologist, Dr Robin Dunbar, there is a finite amount of friendships you can properly manage and it’s about 150. Wild, right?
Dr Dunbar came to this conclusion through his studies focusing on the evolution of the brain (specifically the neocortex) in primates, including human beings. After looking at the brain size of humans compared to the neocortical volume coupled with group size, Dunbar discovered the friendship sweet spot.
While 150 might seem like a large number, this is probably the highest number of friendships you can actively cope with, taking into account how much time and energy is needed to tend to each friend.
“This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there’s some personal history, not just names and faces,” Dr Dunbar told The Guardian.
On the other hand, 150 friends might seem small when you consider the friendships you might maintain via social media. But, as Dr Dunbar pointed out, the friends that fall into the 150 number are ones with who you share personal history, not those you merely exchange small talk with.
Although, Dr Dunbar does point to social media as a means to keep friendships going that might have sooner drifted away from you for a myriad of reasons.
“Can we manage to have meaningful relationships with more than just the old numbers? Yes, I can find out what you had for breakfast from your tweet, but can I really get to know you better?” he told The Guardian. “These digital developments help us keep in touch when in the past a relationship might just have died; but in the end, we actually have to get together to make a relationship work.”
Within this number (known officially as the Dunbar number), you begin to see smaller groups. For example, the next group size down is 50 and this is most likely the number of people you’d consider to be close friends. The ones who have over for dinner but don’t see all the time.
The next step down is a circle of 15 — the friends you confide in and spend a lot of time with. The final circle is five and these are your best friends. The ones you consider to be family and share much of your self with.
According to recent research, you really only need five friends to feel happy in your life. The study, published in April this year, explored the relationship between friendships and life satisfaction of 422 women aged 31 to 77 years old.
Researchers found that in order to feel like we are getting enough in terms of friendship, having three to five close friends is the way to go. Participants with four to five friends reported the highest levels of life satisfaction, with people with three close friends not far behind.
According to the study’s author, Suzanne Degges-White, those who had one person in their life who considered them their best friend reported significantly higher satisfaction in life than those who didn’t.
“Bear in mind that being there for others and holding a valued friendship place in another’s life can absolutely positively influence your own level of well-being,” Degges-White wrote for Psychology Today.
So, whatever your number is, it seems that the quality of these three to five close friendships is what is most important when it comes to feeling happy and fulfilled.