We often think of relationships as something nice, not necessary. We need food when we’re hungry, and drink when we’re thirsty. Yet, relationships and meaningful connections to others are equally critical to our survival. We’re only recently beginning to understand just how much of a primal requirement our social lives are to our health and well-being. Note social ‘lives’, not social ‘followers’. Real relationships are cultivated in the real world, where we can respond in real life to the physical and biological signals that stimulate our brain to release the hormones that help us bond to one another. Likes, heart emojis, and sliding into DMs release dopamine, which lights up reward pathways and yes, feels good, but can become addictive. Time spent with friends talking, laughing, and sharing experiences triggers various feel-good hormones and health-protecting benefits that cannot be wholly replaced by online interactions.
But what if you don’t have a large group of friends? Well, according to Professor Robin Dunbar who has studied friendship extensively, the number of people we can have meaningful connections with is limited by our brains’ size. While we’re likely to have on average of 150 associates or loose ties, the magic number for those we can connect deeply to is roughly five:
“These five shoulders-to-cry-on friends are the ones that provide us with the emotional and other kinds of support we need to get us through the crises and catastrophes of everyday life”, says Professor Dunbar.
What does all this tell us? Simply put, socialising saves lives. But, while we’re mostly stuck at home waiting for the moment when we can return to seeing our loved ones in real life, now is a perfect time to pour a Spritz, pick up the phone and talk to the people we love. Or pick up a pen and write a letter. Or take a (safe) walk and a talk with a pal.
Coming out of this pandemic, saving the planet, and all the other important things we need to focus on will require us to pull together like never before.
Five great ways to strengthen our friendships:
- Our friendships are now likely all long-distance. Send a letter or postcard to let your loved ones know you’re thinking of them.
- Get out into nature and go for a walk. According to the World Happiness Report 2020, time spent in nature with friends is doubly good for our physical and mental well-being.
- Share an on-line experience. Visit a gallery online together or watch a film with Teleparty/Netflix Party. While IRL experiences are the best, shared experiences like these are better than nothing.
- Give yourself a break. Like putting on your own air mask before helping others, relationships are two-way, so remember to also take care of yourself during this time.
- Gossip/Laugh. Primates establish and maintain friendships partly through grooming. Human gossip helps us establish and maintain friendships with each other. Gossip doesn’t have to be negative, simply chatting about celebrity nonsense or swapping information about how other friends are getting on, are all ways to strengthen our bonds to each other.
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