Quality of friends – NOT quantity – is the key to being happy, study finds

Quality of friends – NOT quantity – is the key to being happy and large networks on social media are no match for closeness in real life, study finds

  • Researchers from the University of Leeds used survey results for their study
  • Younger people tended to have larger but less personal social networks 
  • Middle-aged people with fewer but closer friends said they were more satisfied 

Having hundreds of friends on Facebook is no substitute for a handful of close friends in real life, a study has found.

Researchers discovered that people with only a few friends were at least as happy as those with far more if many of theirs were online.

The number of ‘peripheral others’ someone connected with online – former classmates and coworkers, for example – had no bearing on how satisfied they felt.

Social media, the researchers said, has encouraged younger people to have larger but more impersonal networks of ‘friends’.

But instead of trying to amass friends, they added, a better cure for loneliness might be spending time with those you’re closest to.

Researchers from the University of Leeds used the results of surveys completed by 1,496 people to find younger people tended to have larger but less satisfying social networks than those in middle age, who had fewer friends but felt closer to them (stock image)

Scientists from the University of Leeds did their study using data from two online surveys conducted on 1,496 people by a non-profit research organisation.

People taking part in the study revealed their ages, the make-up of their social networks, how often they had different types of social interactions, and their own feelings of wellbeing.

They included details of how often and how they interacted with family or neighbours, and whether they included people who provided services to them in their networks.


Modern teenagers have fewer friends than those 20 years ago, research has suggested, despite the increasing popularity of social media.

A study carried out by the University of Queensland in Australia, found teens felt less lonely than two decades ago but that they have poorer social networks.

A survey of more than 285,000 US high school students carried out between 1991 and 2012 found young people had fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.

The authors behind the study wrote: ‘Greater economic opportunities offer individuals more latitude to manage their own money, decide whom to date and decide whom to marry, reducing the influence of kin and giving people more autonomy, which may increase individualism.

‘Economic changes lead to increased individuality, which could lead to decreasing interest in friends, increasing self-reliance, increasing self-esteem and decreasing loneliness.’

The research was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2015.   

The number of close friends someone had appeared to be the only thing which influenced how satisfied they were with their social life.

‘Loneliness has less to do with the number of friends you have, and more to do with how you feel about your friends,’ said Dr Wändi Bruine de Bruin.

‘It’s often the younger adults who admit to having negative perceptions of their friends. Loneliness occurs in people of all ages.

‘If you feel lonely, it may be more helpful to make a positive connection with a friend than to try and seek out new people to meet.’

In her study Dr Bruine de Bruin found older people tended to have smaller social networks.

Younger people’s were larger but this was mostly made up of ‘peripheral others’ – not true friends, just people they knew – and did not contribute to their happiness.

Even variations in the number of family members or neighbours somebody spent time with did not affect how happy they were with their social life.

Dr Bruine de Bruin said her research echoed other findings showing people reported being happier if a larger proportion of their online friends were actually their friends in reality.

She added: ‘Stereotypes of aging tend to paint older adults in many cultures as sad and lonely.

‘But the research shows that older adults’ smaller networks didn’t undermine social satisfaction and well-being.

‘In fact, older adults tend to report better well-being than younger adults.’

The research was published in the journal Psychology and Aging. 

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