Friendships: Quality Over Quantity

By Lauren Hall
April 2, 2024
Two women who are friends

I introduced my 4-year-old son to the Broadway musical “Wicked” last week. Shameless plug, it’s one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

As the cheeky but pointed song “Popular” blared through the speakers, he asked, “Mom, what does that word mean – popular? Is it important to be popular?”

Good question, kid. Here’s what I found.

Research from the last two decades reveals that Americans prefer a few close, intimate relationships over many superficial ones.

Even in the era of social media influencers who gain popularity through hundreds of thousands of followers, we innately know these numbers do not provide the connection we seek.

A review, or meta-analysis, of 38 studies released by the research group Frontiers in Psychology found that having a few high-quality adult friendships can significantly predict well-being and protect against mental health issues such as anxiety and depression for a lifetime.

On the flip side, people with a large amount of low-quality friendships are twice as likely to die prematurely

This is a risk factor greater than the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes per day, according to the Public Library of Science Medical Journal.

So, how can you tell if a relationship (romantic or platonic) is of quality or not? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I be honest and vulnerable with this person, and are they always open and honest with me?
  • Do I value this person for who they are rather than just for what they do?
  • Can I rely on this person?
  • Do we communicate openly, regularly, and respectfully with one another?
  • Do they encourage me to grow as a person and make good decisions?

While low-quality friendships may decrease your potential long-term health benefits, daily interactions with familiar faces or acquaintances can bolster your confidence, provide stability, and increase “feel good” chemicals in your brain. 

Small connections with strangers—a barista, clerk, co-worker, or neighbor—can be surprisingly sustaining.

Dr. Gillian Sandstrom conducted research that found people who have more superficial interactions regularly are happier than those who have fewer. Also, people tend to be happier on days when they have more than their average number of simple interactions.

In short, research confirms popularity isn’t the goal. It’s more beneficial to build relational depth with a few close people.

But being friendly and interacting with strangers can boost your mood in the short term. As 20th-century artist Pablo Picasso once said, “When you are young and without success, you have a few good friends. Then, later on, when you are rich and famous, you still have a few… if you are lucky.”

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Was This Helpful?

Thoughts? Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *