Why Spending More Time With Friends Should Be Your Top New Year’s Resolution

Feeling lonely is more than just a bummer—researchers are increasingly sounding the alarm about its significant health ramifications.
By Maryam Siddiqi
Why Spending More Time With Friends Should Be Your Top New Year’s Resolution

Our bodies send us signals when we’re thirsty or hungry, but not many of us realize that signals also exist when we’re in need of social interaction. That pang of loneliness that just hit you? It’s a sign from your body to spend some time with a friend.

Conceptual art featuring a bunch of white chess pieces grouped together and one pink piece all alone.

Statistics Canada’s 2021 Canadian Social Survey found that one in 10 people aged 15 and up said they always or often felt lonely, with young women and people who live alone reporting the highest levels of loneliness: 29 percent and 24 percent, respectively. And a survey conducted by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in January 2022 found that Canadians were lonelier at that point than at any other during the pandemic.

Feeling lonely is more than just a bummer—researchers are increasingly sounding the alarm about its significant health ramifications.

“The effects of being lonely or socially isolated are as extreme as some of the most common health conditions that we live with, like obesity, sedentary living, smoking, poverty and [poor] air quality. All of those things have equivalent or lesser impacts on mortality,” says Dr. Kiffer Card, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., who holds a doctorate in philosophy. He’s also the scientific director of the Institute for Social Connection, which studies the science of social connection.

To put a number on it, prolonged loneliness is just as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Brigham Young psychology and neurology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad landed on that figure after analyzing studies that tracked the social habits of nearly 3.4 million people.

If you’re considering resolutions to make for the new year, spending time with friends—and making new ones—deserves a top spot on the list.

A lack of social connection can become a vicious cycle


The more time we spend alone, the more we tend to think it’s because people don’t want to spend time with us. And when we do socialize after a period of being by ourselves, the likelihood of interpreting it negatively—feeling uncomfortable or misinterpreting a comment as offensive—increases, and can send us right back into isolation.

“When people experience a higher level of perceived social threat, what do they typically do? They isolate themselves, which creates a cycle of stress,” explains Card. “The biology underlying the stress response can become dysregulated. So you can actually have a problem where somebody becomes tolerant of all those inflammatory chemicals in their body.” The stress created by loneliness can lead to chronic issues, among them inflammation, sluggish immune response and cardiovascular disease.

(Card also points out there are also some indirect issues related to inadequate social connection, like not having anyone to check up on you during an emergency.)

The impact of loneliness goes beyond the individual

Kim Samuel, founder of the Montreal-based Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness—a non-profit whose mission is to end social isolation—and author of On Belonging: Finding Connection in an Age of Isolation, links isolation not just to personal wellbeing but to environmental justice (disenfranchised populations often live in neighbourhoods with poor access to green space and higher levels of air pollution) and political and economic decisions (community initiatives can bring diverse groups together and foster understanding). She also says research shows a relationship between loneliness and authoritarianism. “We all need to belong. So if we don't find it in one place, we're going to go find it in another, and that may be a dark place,” she says.

Social media can't replace IRL connections

Scrolling through social media might seem like the easiest and most obvious option, and Card says that it can be an important tool for making plans, participating in a community blog or sharing memes that foster a joke culture with a group of friends. However, face-to-face contact is essential. “I think we have evolved to actually be together. Physical touch, physical manifestations, smell and sight—those are actually really important for what we are as humans,” he says.

Invest in building reciprocal relationships


“We can’t simply take, we must give back in our relationships. Reciprocity demands that we show up sooner, show up more often and stay for longer,” Samuel says. “It’s about belonging and inclusion.”

Also of note: Card’s research has found  that people with one close-knit group of friends—where everyone is friends with each other—have lower levels of loneliness than social butterflies who dip in and out of separate social circles (work, home, childhood friends).

Consider social time to be as essential as exercise

Like any other life change that you’re looking to make, planning is essential. Card suggests ensuring your weekly schedule includes social time alongside other weekly feel-good routines, like cooking healthy meals and working out: “Social health needs to be right there with nutrition, exercise and other important behaviours.”


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