Through some clever work by Tim Kasser, Professor and Chair of Psychology at Knox College Illinois, we now know that it’s better to put your energy into the few people you love and cherish the most. Specifically, people who value popularity, and strive to achieve this are less happy, experience more depression and anxiety, have more headaches and are less vital than those who focus on deepening key relationships. And these results are robust. They have been repeated across 15 countries, with people ranging in ages from 10 – 70
Popularity was part of a cluster of extrinsic values Professor Kasser found along with ‘image’ and ‘financial success’. All three of these had the same negative effects on health and happiness. On the positive side, intrinsic values such as personal growth and caring about the broader world went along with ‘affinity’ (deepening strong relationships) as leading to a good life
In his classic work on cognitive complexity and social network size, Robin Dunbar found we can only maintain 150 stable social relationships. This has become known as the Dunbar Number. However, Dunbar also noted a pattern in most people’s network: you could split up your 150 into four concentric circles depending on how important they are to you. People tend to have an innermost circle of 5 people to whom they are closest. The next circle of closeness contains 15 people, then 50, then 150. These numbers are remarkably consistent between people
The implication of Kasser’s work is that we’d be better focusing our best attention on our 15 rather than our 150 relationships
Who are your 15?