Friendship expert and founder of URSTRONG Dana Kerford gives us her best advice on all things BFFs.
If COVID has taught us anything it’s that our friends are worth their weight in gold and that we *desperately* need them to maintain our sanity. But how many do we need to be happy and how can we make more of them?
Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, teacher, friendship expert and founder of social and emotional wellbeing program URSTRONG, Dana Kerford says connection is the foundation for our mental health.
“Friends are absolutely the heart of our wellbeing and mental health, and we really do need those connections with each other,” she tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode The magic number of friends you need in your life.
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“I think it’s been interesting during the pandemic, with the way that our world has unfolded, we’ve begun to realise how much we really, truly need each other.”
So, how many friends do we need?
Kerford explains that studies show the average number is around five good friends, with 2-3 that become lifelong friends.
“It’s about having those close, deep and meaningful connections with people where we feel seen, we feel heard, we feel supported, and we’re really getting beyond those surface chats,” she says.
However, like most things in life it’s really about quality over quantity.
“Even if you have just one top quality, close friendship in your life, that’s all you need,” says Kerford. “When we look at friendship versus loneliness, people who feel lonely are lacking those close connections.”
So – you’re better to have one true friend than a sea of pretenders in order to feel a little less lonely. That rings true. But should you just ditch all your acquaintances?
Kerford explains that in psychology they call these ‘weak connections’ but that they are also important to our emotional wellbeing.
There are tactics you can use if you want to turn one of your acquaintances into one of your top five. And as an adult, this can be hard but it’s not impossible; if you have the right approach.
1. Be vulnerable
“Vulnerability continues to be the number one way to connect with your friends and deepen your connections. It doesn’t mean that we’re revealing absolutely everything and we’re sharing our tough moments all the time and oversharing, which, you know, that’s another problem. But it is about putting the walls down and being really honest and showing up as your authentic self,” says Kerford.
“I absolutely believe that the depths of your friendship is determined by the depth of your conversations. And so you have to have those deep, meaningful conversations and get beyond the surface chats.”
2. Ask the right type of questions
“Professor Aron is famous for his 36 questions, and he determined that with these 36 questions in forty five minutes, you could feel closer to a complete stranger than you do than a family member, someone you’ve known your whole life,” Kerford explains.
She talks about the importance of posing open questions rather than closed questions in order to get to those deeper chats. An example of a closed question would be ‘Have you been well?’ which has a yes/no answer. An open question invites conversation and might be more like ‘How have you been feeling lately?’
Kerford explains that Brené Brown often talks about the three pillars of good friendships – consistency, vulnerability and positivity. We’ve talked about vulnerability but consistency is also important.
“It’s easy to form close friendships as a child or teenager because you see your friends every single day. And that’s why most adults still have a friend from childhood or even a best friend from childhood,” says Kerford.
“As adults, it’s hard because we’re busy. We have a lot of other things going on.”
She suggests trying to be more intentional about the way you go about catching up with your friends, maybe on a bi-weekly basis in an environment that’s conducive to chats, such as a coffee.
If you have children, partners or other distractions, try to find a way to carve out some alone time with your friend. This might include creating a place for children to play where you can watch them but still have time to have a deeper connection.