Health Benefits of a Wide Social Circle

Now that most eligible people (in wealthy countries) have received at least two doses of a COVID vaccine and restrictions on gatherings have eased, connecting with friends outside your closest group can be healthy for mental well-being.  According to a recent Well + Good post, “fringe friends”  are a group of casual acquaintances you may see in social settings – often friends-of-friends in your social circle you catch up with at larger gatherings. 

These people with whom you are friendly typically are not part of your inner circle, and you might not seek to stay in touch outside of the setting where you normally meet.  But this group of casual friends often share a common activity and genuinely enjoy one another’s company.  They aren’t the friends with whom you will share your deep, dark secrets, but they can broaden your experience of the world with new perspectives or interests.  They can also help combat feelings of isolation or loneliness by helping to promote a sense of belonging.  

In several studies, having a strong social network has been shown to help improve overall well-being; boosting mood, and increasing self-esteem.  In older age, a diverse friend group can also help protect healthy cognition and is associated with greater longevity.  Now, as people are freer to move about socially, it is possible to reconnect with fringe friends by planning a casual gathering, perhaps outdoors, to enjoy a shared activity.   It could be something you did together pre-pandemic, or it could be something entirely new – perhaps a monthly book club or game night. 

Not all fringe friendships will survive the challenges and changes of the past 18 months, and that’s ok too.  Social boundaries are also valuable to mental health and if like many, the pandemic has led to some shifts in priorities, it’s also fine to let go of relationships that don’t play a valuable role in your life.   You alone decide how wide your social net is cast, and what are your current needs.