Friendship and wellbeing
I had a good debate about this recently and we used Dunbar’s number to frame our thinking. Dunbar – an anthropologist - proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. He explained it informally as "the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar". According to his theory, the tightest circle of friends people hold, has just five people – loved ones. That’s followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts), 500 (acquaintances) and 1500 (people you can recognise). People migrate in and out of these layers, but the idea is that space has to be carved out for any new entrants by losing someone from one of the layers.
How many friends is enough?
Last week, whilst updating some of the mental wellbeing training I provide, I connected the “friends” debate and the recognition that connection with others is so often a source of positivity in maintaining our emotional wellbeing. Having friends to talk with, laugh with, be vulnerable with adds so much to our lives (accepting differences for extroversion and introversion). Given how busy so many of us are, it is often difficult to prioritise maintaining our friendships, but you know; we really ought to.
During wellbeing training, I share Seligman’s theoretical model of happiness, (known as the PERMA model) which suggests elements we can consider to proactively manage our wellbeing. These elements are:
P - positive emotion - which is about us remaining optimistic, even during those bad days. Finding the good things and focusing on these. In my experience, daily gratitude lists work really well.
E - engagement - this is about finding those things in life where you feel really “in flow”; where time flies because you are so involved or so enjoying yourself. These types of activity flood our bodies with hormones that elevate or sense of well-being.
R - relationships - these are considered crucial to meaningful lives. Connections can provide love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with other humans. Positive relationships are key to overall joy and can provide support in difficult times that require resilience.
M - meaning - having a purpose and living with it in mind, provides meaning for people. For some this might be religion, for others, their spiritual practices help, and for some, it might be the organisation they work for, the cause they support, their family or creative endeavour.
A - accomplishments - having ambition and goals can help us to achieve things that can give us a sense of fulfilment. Setting realistic goals that can be met is important as we push ourselves to thrive and flourish.
Being aware of the PERMA model can help us to consider the fulfilment in our lives and remind us to focus on the good stuff, do the things that engage us and bring joy, find the purpose - and back to my original point; connect with others, build those friendships – however many you want!
If you feel you are struggling with any of the elements outlined by the PERMA model, talking to a professional life coach could help you to improve your wellbeing in these areas.
I love the value that my many and varied friendships bring. Dunbar number aside, I’m happy with the time I invest in friendship; it reaps dividends and no doubt contributes to my well being. How are you doing?