How Many Friends Do We Really Need?
We’ve reached an interesting moment in our social evolution. Our current cultural climate of social media, algorithms, and SEO dominate our thinking, and in this world, followers and exposure are key. In order to promote our businesses and events, gain credibility, or become an influencer, we need people to like us. And the common thinking is that the more people who are engaging with us or whom we can count as friends, the better. But as we spend more time focused on building up our online presences, we’re spending less quality time with the people in our real lives (yes, real life!) and, not coincidentally, seem to be feeling more detached, lonely, and anxious.
Obviously, this way of interacting with others is relatively new to us as humans: social outings, dinner parties, and meeting people in person to talk and relate used to be the norm. So how do we get back to our roots and find a sense of belonging and community? And what exactly does all this have to do with feng shui?
Our Social Beginnings
As humans, our understanding of the idea of place had a huge impact on how we interacted with others.
A very primitive concept of feng shui (or at least the recognition that humans should start paying attention to the places around them) happened about 200,000 years ago when humans stopped being only hunters and gatherers. Hunter and gatherer groups, which typically numbered between 20 and 50 members, were humanity’s first and most successful adaptation. These societies practiced social and economic equality, and members lived together in tribes where the older generations cared for the younger. As hunter-gatherers, humans did not need to alter nature to serve their needs; they were simply dependent on its bounty. But when humans started farming, they needed to understand how sunlight, soil types, topography, wind, weather, and water impacted crops and, thus, their existence. They needed to learn how the environment could affect their success at survival, and it’s believed that this was the first awareness of the impact of place on us as humans.
But with farming and agrarian societies came increased social isolation and a looser sense of community. No longer were humans living and traveling together in tight-knit packs, protecting and providing for each other. Competition for resources, sedentism, and the large amounts of land needed per family unit meant people lived farther away from each other and weren’t as involved in daily life and survival. They started keeping more to themselves to protect what they had, and even though most of us don’t live in rural farming communities anymore, we can see echoes of this mentality in our society today.
What Does This Have to Do With Us?
Interestingly, sociologists today find that the number of friendships that people need to have in order to feel like they belong is between 20 and 50. That’s right, even in our modern society full of technology and increased connectedness, at our core, we still need the same number of people around us as did our hunter-gatherer ancestors thousands of years ago! And if you consider the people in your life with whom you feel close, most likely the number of close relationships you count will fall between 20 and 50.
So, What Does This Mean for Our Sense of Belonging?
As with our personal lives, belonging in a community happens when 20 to 50 people can connect in friendship. This means that those small roads containing 4 or 5 houses, exclusive and gated residential areas with mega-mansions, or massive complexes with thousands of residents have a much harder time supporting a sense of community. Whether there aren’t enough people to make up the ideal size or because there are too many people too close to you and it’s overwhelming, people who do not have access to a friendship group of about 20 to 50 within their living community will often feel lonely and upset. In these environments, people tend to not care as much about their neighborhoods or communal living areas, there’s a lot of transient activity with people moving in and out quite frequently, and people are more wary of connecting or becoming friends with their neighbors. So it’s no surprise that they’re more prone to stick to themselves and stay inside their homes where they feel safe, but which further exacerbates their feelings of loneliness and detachment. There’s a reason that block parties and home days were so popular and successful when we were younger: our ancestors knew the value of maintaining relationships with the people to whom they lived nearby.
In choosing the ideal living environment for you, be mindful of the larger community that you're thinking of moving in to. Are the residents like you? Do you share the same values? How large of a community is it? Are there ways to interact with your neighbors outside of your home? It’s healthier for us (mentally and physically) to feel like we belong, so assess whether you could be friends (or at least good neighbors) with those around you. And if you’re feeling isolated or lonely in your living environment, try reaching out or talking to your neighbors when you see them at the mailbox or walking the dog. Regardless of what we're taught online, we always feel better when we can interact with someone face to face rather than through a screen. You only need to connect with a few people to feel like you’re part of a community, and it can make all the difference in your happiness.