How often do you beat yourself up about not having enough friends?
There’s an unsaid rule in life that we should all be surrounded by people; and it’s an oddly contrary belief. On the one hand, almost every longitudinal study carried out on happiness points to the vital impact that positive relationships have on our lifetime wellbeing. But in the same breath, many of us misjudge the nature of that connection.
We imagine that, like the eponymous show we grew up with, having “friends” means mustering a chorus line of pals on standby; preferably living in the same apartment block, and available exclusively to cheer us on.
Not only is this vision wildly unrealistic – when was the last time you and five friends spent all day hanging out together in a coffee shop? – it also creates pressure. An expectation that, ultimately, leaves us with the nagging sense that we’re falling behind, or not quite meeting the mark.
This mindset – as common as it is flawed – airbrushes over a number of salient truths on how friendships work. For one thing, having friends is a transient process. At any one moment in life, there’ll be different people coming in and out; depending on where you are and what you’re doing. A precious few will last the course, but most will take on cameo roles.
More importantly, your happiness – as identified by social scientists over decades of research on the topic – is not determined by a “group” in any case. You could be the Carrie Bradshaw of your social circle and still feel lonely at night.
Your 4am friend is the only type that counts
It’s an argument that US life coach Mel Robbins expands on during the friendship episode of her hit Audible podcast, Start Here with Mel Robbins. “I think we’ve all subliminally been told… that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t have a tonne of friends or a super-busy social life,” she says.
“And so when you don’t see as many people, especially if you’ve lost some friendships from the past, they can start to feel like maybe there’s something wrong with you. I’m here to tell you there is nothing wrong with you. You just need to change your perspective and where you put your effort when it comes to friendship.”
How? By prioritising what Mel calls “your 4am friend”. This, she says, is the one, pivotal person “whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four o’clock in the morning to tell your troubles to”.
And when it comes down to it, this is the one type of friend who counts. He or she will create the exact kind of stability and trust that researchers describe, when examining how positive relationships help us live longer and happier lives.
Focus on building deep relationships
So, here’s the irony: we’re all labouring under the impression we need to have loads of friends. Yet, the size of that crowd doesn’t have much bearing on the happiness we get from friendship. And, actually, focusing on that falsehood distracts us from the more critical goal of finding people who bring us emotional closeness.
“Most of us spend way too much energy trying to manage too many surface level friendships and that’s part of the problem,” says Mel. “We forget about that 4am friend. [But] when you focus on building close and deep relationships, rather than wanting all your acquaintances to like you, that’s where you will be the happiest.”
Who’s your 4am friend? Do they know how important they are in your life? Maybe you’re lucky enough to have several. And if you don’t have one – well, this could be your cue to change tack. Down tools, take a look around and see who might fit the bill. Are you spending too much energy trying to get people to like you, rather than finding the people you love?
Because friends come in all shapes and sizes. Different people fulfil diverse needs. And you’ll always find a crowd if you want it. But the friend who matters most is the person you yearn to chat to in that darkest hour – when no-one else will do.
Images: Flash Pack