Here’s Why It’s Healthier to Have Better Friends Than More Friends

Fighting loneliness is about the quality—not quantity—of personal connections

Here’s Why It’s Healthier to Have Better Friends Than More Friends
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Loneliness is a major problem in America, and not something that mostly plagues older people. In fact, a 2018 study found that the loneliest generation was those between the ages of 18 and 22, which makes a case for the increasing argument that those who are most attune to social media are also the most likely to feel disconnected from society.

Now, a new study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology has found that 17.1 percent of American adults aged 18 to 70 can be classified as perpetually lonely. However, the study is unique in that it divided loneliness into four subcategories: “low” (52.8 percent), “social” (8.2 percent), “emotional” (26 percent), and “social and emotional” (12 percent). Of the four, the latter category was associated with the highest levels of emotional distress as well as deteriorating mental health.

The study was also unique in that it asked all of its 1,839  participants (many of whom were married or living with a partner) to assess not just the quantity of their social relationships but also their quality. What they found was that—to put it in layman’s terms— the quality of the relationships that people had were far more important than the number of contacts they had on their phones.

“Current findings provide support for the presence of subtypes of loneliness and show that they have unique associations with mental health status,” the study reads. “Recognition of these subtypes of loneliness revealed that the number of U.S. adults aged 18 to 70 experiencing loneliness was twice as high as what was estimated when loneliness was conceptualized as a unidimensional construct. The perceived quality, not the quantity, of interpersonal connections was associated with poor mental health.”

Within our society, advice on relationships tends to focus on maintaining marital or romantic bonds. But, within the scientific community, there’s a growing understanding that having a strong social network is critical not only to one’s physical and emotional health but also to one’s longevity. And for great guidance on how to cultivate these bonds, check out the 40 Ways to Make New Friends After 40.

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