Every New Year's, there's a rush of pressure to make this year the best one yet by getting out there and meeting new people. But this year, you can skip the resolution to make more friends: Science shows that working on improving the strong relationships you already have will make you happier and healthier in the long run.
A new study, published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology last month, found that high school and college students have smaller interpersonal social networks than those of students in the past. But despite rising concerns about social media causing feelings of disconnection, the teens actually reported a decline in loneliness.
In other words, teens nowadays have fewer friends but actually feel less isolated, in part because they feel more secure in the relationships they do have.
Lead researcher David Clark theorized that modern society has made us more independent, meaning we can rely on a few close friends to give us social support we need.
Quality over quantity: This isn't the first study to find that it's the closest friends that matter the most. The "Dunbar Number" is a famous theory that the human brain only has the cognitive capacity to maintain stable relationships with a limited number of people.
Anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar concluded that the average person can have about 150 people in their social group, but that only 15 of these people are friends you can confide in and turn to for sympathy — and only five of these people are your close support group of best friends and family.
Dunbar came up with the theory in the 1990s, but scientists have recently tested his numbers after the proliferation of social media, and the numbers have remained constant.
Close friendships are good for us: These most intimate friend groups are actually crucial to your wellbeing. As we grow older, we tend to focus on cultivating romantic relationships (as any single person is well aware of). But the Mayo Clinic suggests that prioritizing friendships can improve physical health, and Bella DePaulo, a visiting psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the New York Times that in many studies, friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member.
Studies have found that having good, solid friendships can reduce your risk for illness, from being less likely to get a common cold to having a lower risk of obesity, heart attack or heart disease.
These close ties are especially important as we age. A 10-year study in Australia of elderly individuals found that those with strong friend groups were 22% less likely to die over the 10-year period than those with fewer friends, and a Harvard study found that having close friends may promote brain health as we age.
Social media has twisted the concept of friendship, emphasizing sheer acquisition (never before Facebook could you report you had exactly 1,398 "friends") and giving us FOMO from everyone's else seemingly full social lives. But these studies are an important reminder that it's really keeping your closest friends that matters most.
So if you feel the pressure to add meeting new people to your New Year's resolutions, cross it off the list and go hug your friends instead. Meeting new people? Highly overrated.