Dunbar's number

The number of people with whom we can maintain a stable relationship is about 150, according to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He says: 

We devote around 40 percent of our available social time to our 5 most intimate friends and relations…and the remaining 60 percent in progressively decreasing amounts goes to the other 145.  

Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness. Creating and maintaining friendships is, however, extremely costly, in terms of both the time that has to be invested and the cognitive mechanisms that underpin them. Part of friendship is the act of mentalizing, or mentally envisioning the landscape of another's mind. Cognitively, this process is extraordinarily taxing, and as such, intimate conversations seem to be capped at about four people before they break down and form smaller conversational groups.  

Read more at the BigThink

The Value of Community

I used to think that community was as simple as having friends who bring a lasagna when things fall apart and champagne when things go well. Who pick up your kids from school when you can’t. But I think community is also an insurance policy against life’s cruelty; a kind of immunity against loss and disappointment and rage. My community will be here for my family if I cannot be. And if I die, my kids will be surrounded people who know and love them, quirks and warts and oddities and all.   

Jenny Anderson writing in Quartz

The people who can help you see yourself for who you are

Romantic partners and close friends might be more informed, because they’ve observed you more—but they can also have blurrier vision, because they chose you and often share that pesky desire to see you positively. You need people who are motivated to see you accurately. And I’ve come to believe that more often than not, those people are your colleagues. The people you work with closely have a vested interest in making you better (or at least less difficult). The challenge is they’re often reluctant to tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

The decision that most affects your happiness

There are two premises that lead Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, to believe personal company is the most important factor for long-term satisfaction.

The first is that decision-making is tiring. A great deal of research has found that humans have a limited amount of mental energy to devote to making choices. Picking our clothes, where to eat, what to eat when we get there, what music to listen to, whether it should actually be a podcast, and what to do in our free time all demand our brains to exert that energy on a daily basis.

The second premise is that humans falsely believe they are in full control of their happiness by making those choices. So long as we make the right choices, the thinking goes, we'll put ourselves on a path toward life satisfaction.

Cerf rejects that idea. The truth is, decision-making is fraught with biases that cloud our judgment. People misremember bad experiences as good, and vice versa; they let their emotions turn a rational choice into an irrational one; and they use social cues, even subconsciously, to make choices they'd otherwise avoid.

But as Cerf tells his students, that last factor can be harnessed for good.

His neuroscience research has found that when two people are in each other's company, their brain waves will begin to look nearly identical. 

"This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike."

From those two premises, Cerf's conclusion is that if people want to maximize happiness and minimize stress, they should build a life that requires fewer decisions by surrounding themselves with people who embody the traits they prefer. Over time, they'll naturally pick up those desirable attitudes and behaviors. At the same time, they can avoid the mentally taxing low-level decisions that sap the energy needed for higher-stakes decisions.

Chris Weller writing in Business Insider

Using Peer Pressure to our advantage

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful... Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people's transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Using Peer Pressure to our advantage

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful... Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people's transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The decision that most affects your happiness

There are two premises that lead Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, to believe personal company is the most important factor for long-term satisfaction. 

The first is that decision-making is tiring. A great deal of research has found that humans have a limited amount of mental energy to devote to making choices. Picking our clothes, where to eat, what to eat when we get there, what music to listen to, whether it should actually be a podcast, and what to do in our free time all demand our brains to exert that energy on a daily basis.

The second premise is that humans falsely believe they are in full control of their happiness by making those choices. So long as we make the right choices, the thinking goes, we'll put ourselves on a path toward life satisfaction.

Cerf rejects that idea. The truth is, decision-making is fraught with biases that cloud our judgment. People misremember bad experiences as good, and vice versa; they let their emotions turn a rational choice into an irrational one; and they use social cues, even subconsciously, to make choices they'd otherwise avoid.

But as Cerf tells his students, that last factor can be harnessed for good.

His neuroscience research has found that when two people are in each other's company, their brain waves will begin to look nearly identical.  

"This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike."

From those two premises, Cerf's conclusion is that if people want to maximize happiness and minimize stress, they should build a life that requires fewer decisions by surrounding themselves with people who embody the traits they prefer. Over time, they'll naturally pick up those desirable attitudes and behaviors. At the same time, they can avoid the mentally taxing low-level decisions that sap the energy needed for higher-stakes decisions.

Chris Weller writing in Business Insider

What I would say to my 22-year-old self

I worked hard. I was focused, determined, and disciplined. But I did not necessarily allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression. I would encourage my 22-year-old self to take a moment to nurture my friendships--in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together--share experience. Laugh out loud every day. -Naomi Simson

are you in the mix?

You don't have to be "deep" or constantly talking about profound issues. You just need to be "in the mix" so that you venture outside of your box. People who don’t peek out and over the lids of their cardboard hovels live in very small worlds. They may follow others into change, but they do not own it.

One way to clarify who is in the mix and who is not, is to ask, "Would I go to this person for advice when some significant life issue confronted me?" Not just for encouragement or some sage piece of advice--but because this person is a fellow struggler.

These types of friends and acquaintances are "in the fight" to move beyond white picket fences and 9-to-5 jobs. They whet your appetite for substantive relationships and make you want to become more than what you are. These are friends who are open to paradigm shifts in their own lives. They are not just focused on “straightening you out” so that you will become more like them. They want to grow like you do.

Stephen Goforth

Walls and Masks

We need to be able to express ourselves, to talk ourselves out without fear of rejection by others. Too often the problems that we keep submerged within us remain, in the darkness of our own interior, undefined and therefore destructive.

We do not see the true dimensions of these things that trouble us until we define them and set lines of demarcation in conversation with a friend. Inside of us they remain as nebulous as smoke, but when we confide ourselves to another we acquire some sense of dimension and growth in self-identity and the capacity to accept ourselves as we are.

It may well be that our walls and masks will make this difficult. We may instinctively try to rationalize that there is really no one near to whom we can talk ourselves out. Many of us practice the self-deception of believing that there is no one in our supposed circle of friends that can be trusted. Very commonly these excuses that we have rehearsed so often are merely excuses. Our real fear is that we would be rejected, that the other person would not understand us. And so we wait and wait and wait behind our wall for the sufficient sound of reassurance in another or we gaze out of the windows of our towers looking for prince charming to come and rescue us. We excuse ourselves from all initiative seeking truly human interpersonal relationship with another on the grounds that the time is not ripe or the circumstances right. In the meanwhile, we can only perish.

John Powell, Why am I Afraid to Love

We're Lost Our Mirrors

Societies have rites of passage to help members deal with change. When these cues are missing and we have nothing in our lives to affirm that change is appropriate and timely, we’ve lost our mirrors. This is when a dependable support system can step up to make the difference. Just like the recovering alcoholic needs reminders about what a healthy identity looks like, we need a trusted circle of friends to remind us that the change in our lives is both positive and necessary.  And we need that circle to encourage us to embrace the new identity and not the old one.

Stephen Goforth

those pathetic people

Most of us, driven by our own aching needs and voids, address life and other people in the stance of seekers. We become what CS Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, calls “..those pathetic people who simply want friends and can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends.”

Most of us know our need to be loved and try to seek the love that we need from others. But the paradox remains uncompromised; if we seek the love which we need, we will never find it. We are lost.

Love can effect the solution of our problems but we must face the fact that to be loved, we must become loveable. When a person orients his life towards the satisfaction of his own needs, when he goes out of seek the love which he needs, no matter how we try to soften our judgments of him, he is self-centered. He is not lovable, even if he does deserve our compassion, He is concentrating on himself, and as long as he continues to concentrate on himself, his ability to love will always remain stunted and he will himself remain a perennial infant.

If, however, a person seeks not to receive love, but rather to give it, he will become lovable and he will most certainly be loved in the end. This is the immutable law under which we live: concern for ourselves and convergence upon self can only isolate self and induce an even deeper and more torturous loneliness. It is a vicious and terrible cycle that closes in on us when loneliness, seeking to be relieved through the love of others, only increases. The only way we can break this cycle formed by our lusting egos is to stop being concerned with ourselves and to being to be concerned with others.

John Powell, Why Am I Afraid to Love?

My Life with One Arm

Two months to the day after my accident, I went to see a therapist for the first time in my life. I didn’t know where to begin. We discussed loss and resilience and the will to live and adapt. But when I started talking about the outpouring of love and support that I had received since my accident, I began weeping uncontrollably. I realized that for the first time in my life, I was truly letting love into my heart. Losing an arm has connected me to others in a way I have never felt. Yes, I have suffered a tremendous loss, but in a way, I feel as if I have gained much more.

Miles O’Brian, Writing in New York Magazine

It's Contageous!

Not only do you tend to hang out with people like yourself, your friends will influence you toward or away from self-control. Even the people you are forced by circumstances to hang out with (like co-workers) have an influence on your behavior.

That's the finding of researchers who asked participants to watch people either select carrot sticks or cookies to eat before taking tests related to self-control (not involving cookies and carrots). Participants who watched someone eat cookies before the tests did not do as well as those who had watched someone decide to eat carrots.

In another test, participants were told to think of a friend with good self-control. This group performed better on a handgrip test (used to measure self-control) than did the participants assigned to think about a friend with weak self-control. Other tests showed similar results.

Their conclusions: If you surround yourself with people who make wise choices, you are more likely to do the same. You can boost your self-control simply by networking with other people who reinforce positive behavior (or vise versa). And when you show a lack of self-control, you are probably influencing someone else to do the same.

Details of the study are published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Stephen Goforth

True Friendship

If friends relate to you only on their terms--or see you as just a means to an end (that is, they are trying to turn you into little versions of themselves) then they have created a barrier to true friendship. The irreligious actually honor God more than the professing believer when accepting people for who they are, as means in themselves. This does not mean you don't try to help friends grow and learn and move into truth. It means you start by acknowledging they are made in the image of God and worthwhile and valuable--simply for being themselves (Psalm 139:13).

Stephen Goforth

Let go of those who are already gone

The sad truth is that there are some people who will only be there for you as long as you have something they need. When you no longer serve a purpose to them, they will leave. We rarely lose friends and lovers, we just gradually figure out who our real ones are. So when people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leaves you. It doesn’t mean they are bad people; it just means that their part in your story is over.

Marc &  Angel Chernoff

You Need Two Things

Building a genuine relationship with another person depends on at least two abilities. The first is seeing the world from another person's perspective. The second ability is being able to think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get.

We're not suggesting that you be so saintly that a self-interested thought never crosses your mind. What we're saying is that your first move should always be to help. A study on negotiation found that a key difference between skilled and average negotiators was the time spent searching for shared interests and asking questions of the other person.

Follow that model. Start with a friendly gesture and genuinely mean it. Dale Carnegie's classic book on relationships, despite all its wisdom, has the unfortunate title How to Win Friends and Influence People. This makes Carnegie widely misunderstood. You don't "win" a friend. A friend is not an asset you own; a friend is an ally, a collaborator. When you can tell that someone is attempting sincerity, it leaves you cold. It is like the feeling you have when someone calls you by your first name repeatedly in conversation.

Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You

the artist is a collector

An artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: hoarders collect indiscriminately, the artist collects selectively. They only collect things that they really love. There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income. I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.

Austin Kleon, How to Steal Like an Artist

a secret about your inner circle

Are your friendships driven by your preferences or more by your social opportunities? It’s the later, according to a study out of the Netherlands. Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst interviewed more than 1000 people and interviewed them again seven years later. His finding: Our personal networks are not formed solely on the basis of personal choices.

Mollenhorst says you’ll have a turnover of about half of your closest friends at least every seven years. But don’t blame it on fickleness or disloyalty. Circumstances will play a major role in who stays in the inner circle as your favorite discussion partners and practical helpers. When parts of your friendship network move away or change jobs or have babies, you replace them. As you make life-changing decisions about marriage and divorce, your best mates will be determined largely by the happenstance surrounding the decision.

Friends come and go. But you should hold on to some of them. Who makes you a better person just for hanging around with them? Who expands your world and helps you to better define yourself? It takes extra effort--but hang on these friends. They're worth it.

Stephen Goforth

Top five regrets of the dying

What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life? An Australian nurse who counsels the dying recorded the most common regrets she heard from people at the end of theirs lives. As the Guardian points out, there was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. Bronnie Ware put them in a book called The Top Five regrets of the Dying.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.