“You’ve got troubles, well I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and we see it through
You’ve got a friend in me”
As the Beatles have taught us, there’s a lot you can do with a little help from your friends. They’re more than just good company and a sympathetic ear—friends can have a major impact on your life in all kinds of ways. Here are 42 facts about the company we keep.
42. Keeping to Ourselves
We’re losing friends at an alarming rate. The average number of confidants in the average person’s life has fallen by a third in the past 20 years. Now, twice as many people have no confidants at all!
41. Health Benefits
Need an idea for next year’s New Year’s resolution? Make some friends! Having no friends or confidants is as bad for your health as smoking or being overweight.
40. Sympathy Pains
A study that administered electrical shocks to subjects, their friends, and total strangers, showed that the subjects’ brains reacted the same whether they or their friend were about to be shocked. Sorry strangers, you didn’t make the cut.
39. Elixir of Life
If you want to live longer, a network of friends is actually even more important than a close family group. Older people live 22% longer if they have an extensive friend network.
Your dream of a Sex & the City-style friend group is getting less and less likely. According to one study, adults have on average just two best friends—down from three, 25 years ago.
37. No One to Talk to
Loneliness is a problem in America. One study found that, when asked how many confidants they had, more adults answered “zero” than anything else.
36. Drama Club
68% of teens who use social media have experienced online drama with friends. 26% have had a real-life conflict with a friend over something that was said online or through texting.
Friends can save your life. Women with breast cancer who don’t have a network of friends are twice as likely to die of the disease, and 66% more likely to die of any cause, than women who maintain strong friendships.
34. Primate Support Network
If you turn to your friends when things get overwhelming, you’re not alone. Chimps who have been through a stressful situation return to normal more quickly if they spend time with a friend.
33. Spreading the Love
The “cheerleader effect” is real—people appear more attractive in a group than they do on their own. This might be because the most attractive members of a group raise the overall perception of the group’s attractiveness. Guess I gotta go find some hot friends.
Even at a young age, we can be astute social observers. Babies as young as nine months old can recognize friendship, even if it’s between strangers.
31. Don’t Forget
Older people who feel lonely are over twice as likely to develop dementia. Strangely, this applies even if they have an existing friend network—the subjective feeling of loneliness is the determining factor, regardless of how alone you actually are.
30. Contagious Lifestyles
When one person in a friend group becomes obese, other members of the group are more likely to become obese as well. Yet, on the other hand, if one friend starts to exercise and eat well, their friends are more likely to adopt those changes, too.
29. What’ll It Cost
Are you wondering what it would take to get you to the gym? One study found that the influence of friends was even better motivation to exercise than money. I can attest, because I have literally said “you couldn’t pay me to go the gym,” and yet after a friend started nagging me to join them, lo and behold I found myself at that damn gym.
28. Peer Pressure
We were all taught to “just say no” to peer pressure—but it can actually have a positive effect. When one person quits smoking, their friends are 36% more likely to quit too. “Come on man, quit smoking, all the cool kids are doing it!”
27. Quality Over Quantity
The happier you are in your friendships, the more likely you are to be happy with your life, regardless of how many friends you have.
26. Get to Work!
If you have a close friend at your job, you’re seven times more likely to be productive and enjoy your work. If you don’t have any friends at work, there’s only a 1 in 12 chance that you’ll like what you do.
25. Take Three to Five Friends, Twice Times A Week
In order to reap the health benefits of friendship, you can’t stop at one. For the best health results, you need between three and five close friends.
24. Not Just a Placeholder
One major element of friendship is called the “person-qua-person factor.” This means that friends treat each other as unique and irreplaceable individuals, not merely as occupants of a given role in their lives.
23. They Grow Up So Fast
Friendship evolves as kids grow up. Three to six-year-olds define people as “friends” so long as they’re participating together in an activity they enjoy. By ages nine to twelve, though, they’re evaluating friends based on internal characteristics such as values. This is also around the time that children begin to learn about concepts like sharing and controlling your emotions, which allows them to build more meaningful friendships.
22. Facebook Won’t Cut It
When we talk about friend networks, we don’t just mean on Facebook. Having a large online social network doesn’t necessarily mean your offline network will be any bigger, or that your friendships will be any closer.
21. More Than Friends
Long-term couples really do have a secret. According to one report, keeping the friendship alive is five times as important as physical intimacy in a marriage.
20. High Turnover Rate
Researchers surveyed several hundred people about their social networks, and then did so again seven years later. They found that the respondents’ networks were about the same size on average, but only 30% of their friends were the same as seven years earlier.
19. Toxic Friendships
Bad friendships can have as much impact as good friendships. Older people who find their friends to be a strain are more likely to suffer from chronic illness than those who feel that their friends are a source of support.
18. Like a Ball of Yarn
The friends you make at school can be both beneficial and detrimental. One study of college friendship groups found that they came in three types. One type, the Tight-knitters, had a large interconnected network that could offer mutual support—or pull each other down.
17. Gotta Keep’em Separated
Another friendship type found in the college study was the Compartmentalizer: someone with multiple clusters of friends. The benefit of this was that each cluster could offer different benefits—one group for having fun, one group for studying together, etc.
The third type identified in the college study was the Sampler, who chose individual friendships rather than joining a group. While this does show self-sufficiency, it can also be socially isolating.
15. The Test of Time
One researcher at Ohio University has defined the five qualities that make a friendship: they must be voluntary, affectionate, personal, on equal ground and mutual. His inspiration for this list was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Sadly, I don’t think my friendship with Tom Hanks meets any of those requirements. I can dream though…
14. It’s Not Mutual
Do you wonder if it’s just you? A joint study between MIT and Tel Aviv University found that only half of people we consider friends return the feeling.
13. Glory Days
Do you feel like you had more fun in college? You could be right. Young adults spend 10-25 hours a week socializing. Though all kinds of responsibilities eventually get in our way, time spent with friends drops off most dramatically when we get married. I guess those few people who get married in college must form some kind of logical paradox?
12. Investing the Time
If you’re worried about losing your friends someday, try putting in more time with them now. In one study, the more time friends had invested in their relationship in 1983 helped to determine whether they were still friends in 2002.
11. Return on Investment
If you want to keep your friends, remember that it’s a two-way street. Friendships are more likely to continue if both people feel like they’re getting as much out of the relationship as they’re putting in. Hear that Tom??
10. I Have My Limits
How popular can you get? The number of people you can handle in your social group—that is, people you consider casual friends—is about 150, also known as “The Dunbar Number.”
9. Didn’t Make the Cut
Beyond friendships, it seems like we can manage as many as 500 acquaintances, and at most 1,500 people we can recognize and name.
8. Believe in Yourself
One study had subjects write a test, then think about someone they had either a good, a bad, or a neutral relationship with. When researchers told participants they had done poorly on the test, those who had thought about a friend were more likely to try to improve and do better next time, while those who thought about bad relationships were more likely to try and block the test from their mind and move past it.
7. We Can Do It!
For a study on friendship, researchers had participants stand by a hill, either alone or with a friend, and estimate how steep the hill was. Those who were with a friend thought the hill looked less daunting than those who were standing alone.
6. You’re Just Jealous
Studies have found that passively using Facebook (that is, checking Facebook but not using it to interact with people) has a negative effect on people’s emotional well-being. The reason? It increases their envy. Just think of how envious people will be of me when they see all the cool pictures of Tom and I hanging out…
5. Putting Our Heads Together
Research on co-rumination—talking to our friends about our troubles, but without looking for solutions—has shown that it isn’t always a good thing. While co-rumination can strengthen friendships, in the workplace it can lead to increased stress and burn-out. Also, while it can help to share your problems with a friend, sometimes it mostly just serves to increase their stress-levels, rather than lowering yours.
4. Can’t Look Away
A survey of Facebook users revealed that people often found their online “friends” annoying or offensive. However, this didn’t reduce the amount of time they spent on the site. Why is that? It turns out we just really like silently judging people. I can attest to that.
3. Making Friends
Is computer time hurting teenagers? Maybe not as much we think. A 2015 survey found that 57% of teens had made at least one new friend online. 29% had made more than five new friends online.
2. More Than Just a Game
38% of teen boys say that their gaming handle is one of the top three things they would share with someone they wanted to be friends with.
1. Make Way
Do you feel like your friend’s new squeeze is squeezing you out? You could be right: On average, falling in love with someone pushes two friends out of your circle.