How many friends should you have as an adult?

At around 25-30 years old, how many close friends would you need to have in order to live a healthy and happy life? Currently I have 4 reliable people I can depend on. I lost a few close friends along the way, I had 6 in total, should I try to get them back somehow, or just make new ones?

Dear Reader, 

While you may feel lonely at times, you’re not alone in feeling this way. Friendships can be challenging and take a conscious effort to maintain, but they can also be fulfilling and mutually beneficial. Recent studies on young adults around 18 to 30 years old consistently find that they’re looking to meet people or make new friends. At the same time, a 2021 poll by the Survey Center on American Life found that almost half of American adults reported having three or fewer close friends. If you have four reliable people to depend on, it seems you may be ahead of the curve. 

Reader, you also alluded to the importance of having close friends for a healthy and happy life, which has some truth in it. Friendships are positively associated with physical, mental, and emotional health. Having friends can decrease the risk of chronic illness, increase levels of happiness, and provide social support to deal with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. 

Much of the research in the field is focused on the differences between young adults and older adults. However, this may fail to reveal that younger adults are feeling more isolated and lonelier than older adults, even with larger social networks. For example, young adults might have more negative relationships with people in their social networks, leading to a higher allostatic load. In this case, allostatic load refers to the physiological wear and tear on the body that builds up because of chronic stress which may also differ by gender, race, ethnicity, situation, and marital status. These research findings suggest that perhaps the quality of friendships is just as important as the number of friendships. 

So, what can a person do about developing close friendships? Rekindling an old friendship or trying to make new friends are both feasible options, but they’ll also take time. In trying to revive an old friendship, it’s important to consider what the relationship means to you, in terms of the dynamic of the friendship and how it’s changed over time. It’s also advised to be prepared if it doesn't work out. While it can be nice to reconnect with someone, depending on the circumstances, the other person may choose not to reopen that door. Being patient and open with them about what you’re looking for in the friendship can help you two come to a decision about what’s best. 

On the other hand, if you are looking to expand your social circles, making new friends is another possibility. While it might feel daunting to put yourself out there, here are a few suggestions based on human connection research: 

  • Put in effort when you put yourself out there. Taking the first step toward making a new friend can mean joining a friend connection site, going on a trip alone and staying in a hostel with a communal room, or walking up to someone you’ve regularly noticed at a coffee shop and saying hi. Do whatever feels right to do, the point is to do something! 
  • Assume people like you. 
  • Join a group that meets regularly over time, such as a book club. This takes advantage of the “mere exposure effect” which makes people more familiar after encountering them more often. 
  • Tell your friends you value their friendship. 
  • Don’t blame yourself for not having “enough” friends. Loneliness is a systemic issue and will be hard to fix, but individual actions can help. 

List adapted from The New York Times

Finally, the quantity and quality of your friendships aren’t the only factors that contribute to a happy and healthy life. Some other recommendations for healthy living are eating nutritious food, sleeping well, exercising, limiting alcohol use and smoking, and having passions that you pursue. Quality of life is also affected by behavioral or genetic factors, making a “happy and healthy life” subjective. Putting your energy into doing the things you enjoy and spending time with people you value are some ways to figure out what happiness and good health mean to you. And those four reliable people that you depend on, well they might just be the best place to start!

Last updated Aug 04, 2023
Originally published Aug 04, 2023