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The Awesome Benefit of Having Great Friends


A lonely life may be bad for your brain. In a new British study, people who didn’t identify with any groups—family, local community, or social—were nearly 20 times more likely to be depressed than those who reported fitting in to several circles. 

But it’s not just about joining a group, or even meeting with one regularly, says study author Juliet Wakefield, Ph.D. Instead, it’s about feeling like you belong with a set of people and sharing similar features or attributes with them.  

Identifying with a group may be so helpful because you can receive social support from the members in times of crisis—whether it’s just a sympathetic ear or even the loan of a few bucks.

“Perhaps even more importantly, you believe that such support will be available if a problem occurs,” says Wakefield. So you know you have a safety net to catch you if things get dicey. 

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While it’s possible that depressed people just socialize less, the researchers believe that the effect of group identification on depression is stronger. They’re currently working on research to better nail down the cause-effect link.

In the meantime, try joining a bunch of different groups—like a community council or recreation sports league—to see if you find a few you really click with, says Wakefield. And don’t just stand around at the meetings: Getting involved in the decisions can help boost your belonging, research shows. 

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