Loneliness & Your Health

Loneliness is rampant. Loneliness is not about social skills, like-ability or the kind of friend you can be to others. You can be popular and be lonely. You can be beautiful, friendly and successful, and be lonely. You can have a full social calendar and be lonely. You can be married and be lonely. You can be networked and be lonely. Loneliness speaks to your sense of connection. Dr. Jacqueline Olds is a consulting psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, has seen patients for 32 years and is a prolific author on the subject of loneliness. She was quoted yesterday in the The Boston Globe as saying that "Aside from genetics, the two most important factors in longevity are exercise and a network of friends."

Think about how much attention is given in the media and culture to exercise! Every women's health magazine focuses on new exercises to try every month, doctors encourage us to get to the gym and schools set aside an entire period for our physical education & exercise. When was the last time you received the same kind of encouragement to focus on your friendships?

This is a huge issue. And it's largely missing from our conversations regarding our health.

How many Friends do you HAVE? The American Sociological Review published research in June 2006 that showed almost 25% of Americans claim to have no confidante that they share deeply with. Add the 19% of people who claimed to only have 1 such person in their life (most likely a spouse or significant other) and you have almost 50% of Americans who have virtually no close friends outside one relationship (imagine what happens after a divorce, break-up or death?) The other half aren't much better off with the average being two close friends.

How many Friends do you NEED? Compare those numbers of how many close friends most of us have with the numbers that suggest how many friends most of us need.

A study commissioned by The National Lottery to determine the happiness levels between lottery-winners and non-lottery winners showed that it was actually the number of friends that made a bigger impact than the amount of money the respondents had! The report found that "those with five friends or fewer had a 60 per cent chance of being unhappy. People with between five and ten friends have a 50 per cent chance of being happy. But for people with more than ten friends, the likelihood of being happy varies between 55 and 56 per cent. Adding more friends than this doesn't significantly increase the possibility of happiness- so ten is the optimum number. On average, respondents who reported themselves 'extremely satisfied' with their lives had twice the number of friends of those who were 'extremely dissatisfied'.

So on average, most of us have two close friends. And, on average, most of us would be happiest with ten.

Granted, we're all different. We are not a statistic. But do those numbers help reveal a need in our lives?

What are your numbers? How many people do you have that you confide in? How many would you like to have?

Could it be that maybe just as important, if not more, than losing those ten extra pounds might be to add those ten extra friends into your life?