Florence Williams (@flowill) is a journalist and the author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, and Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey.
What We Discuss with Florence Williams:
- How “real” is heartbreak? Real enough that our brains react to the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way they react to physical pain.
- The chronic loneliness brought about by heartbreak can increase the risk of early death by as much as 26 percent.
- Just as you wouldn’t expect results from “wishing” a toothache away, ignoring the distress caused by heartbreak can exacerbate existing medical problems and create new ones — from inflammation to diabetes, heart disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Differences between the causes and symptoms of heartbreak as typically experienced by women and men.
- What we can do to mitigate the pain if we find ourselves suffering from heartbreak.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
The positive effects of being happily partnered with other human beings are well-documented. For instance, we know that the mutual support such relationships provide is instrumental in keeping us alive longer. Less understood is what happens — emotionally as well as physically — if these ties are severed. So when science journalist Florence Williams‘ marriage of 25 years ended, she experienced the pain of something that had eluded her for her entire life: heartbreak.
On this episode, Florence — author of Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey — joins us to discuss why we should be taking heartbreak as seriously as we would any other ailment that can exacerbate existing medical conditions and create new ones, how the chronic loneliness brought about by heartbreak can increase the risk of early death by as much as 26 percent, and what we can do to mitigate these effects if we find ourselves suffering from heartbreak. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Peloton: Learn more at onepeloton.com/row
- Blue Nile: Go to bluenile.com and use code JORDAN for $50 off $500; this exclusive offer includes engagement rings
- TurboTax: Discover what’s possible at intuit.com
- HVMN: Go to HVMN.com promo code JORDAN for 20% off Ketone-IQ
- Mea Culpa: Listen here or wherever you find fine podcasts!
Miss our conversation with evolutionary social psychologist Dr. Sarah Hill? Catch up with episode 280: Sarah Hill | This Is Your Brain on Birth Control here!
Thanks, Florence Williams!
If you enjoyed this session with Florence Williams, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams | Amazon
- Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams | Amazon
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams | Amazon
- Florence Williams | Website
- Florence Williams | Twitter
- Florence Williams | Instagram
- Florence Williams | Facebook
- Do Married People Really Live Longer? | Time
- ‘Clinically Awful’: Why the Pain of a Broken Heart Is Real | The Guardian
- Rachel Zoffness | Managing Pain In Your Body and Brain | Jordan Harbinger
- The Pain of Chronic Loneliness Can Be Detrimental to Your Health | UCLA Health
- Loneliness is Bad for Your Health | The Conversation
- Why Divorce Can Come with an Early Death Risk | Futurity
- Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (Broken-Heart Syndrome) | Harvard Health
- Making a Place for Emotions in Medicine | Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics
- This Is What Happens to Your Brain When You Get Your Heart Broken | ScienceAlert
- This Is Your Brain on Heartbreak | The Atlantic
- Qualms about QAnon Mom and Her Starseed Schtick | Feedback Friday | Jordan Harbinger
- Abandonment and Rage: Phase of a Breakup | A Better Life Therapy
- 10 Important Differences Between Men Vs. Women After Break Up | Mom Junction
- Individual Differences in the Rejection-Aggression Link in the Hot Sauce Paradigm: The Case of Rejection Sensitivity | The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
- When Love Hurts, a Placebo Can Help | CU Boulder Today
- The Role of Social Isolation in Opioid Addiction | Oxford Academic
- How Ecstasy and Psilocybin Are Shaking up Psychiatry | Nature
- Op-Ed: Heartbreak Hurts, in Part Because Our Cells ‘Listen for Loneliness’ | Los Angeles Times
- Steven Pinker | Why Rationality Seems Scarce | Jordan Harbinger
- Eudaimonic vs. Hedonic Happiness | ThoughtCo.
- A Feeling of Awe and What It Can Do for You | Grand Canyon Questions
- The Romanian Orphans Are Adults Now | The Atlantic
790: Florence Williams | The Science of Heartbreak
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:04] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:07] Florence Williams: Well, you know, there's this theory that one of the reasons we're seeing such an incredible kind of epidemic of opioid addiction is because people are lonely. You know, these drugs do act on our oxytocin receptors in our brains. They act on the sort of endorphin system that is normally activated by social happiness, togetherness. You know, mother-child relationships will activate these oxytocin centers in our brain, and in the absence of that kind of relationship, people are really looking for another substitute. That's why sometimes, I think we're seeing so much addiction right now.
[00:00:46] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional Russian chess grandmaster, former cult member, rocket scientist, or economic hitman. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world and become a better thinker.
[00:01:10] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and of course, I always, always appreciate it when you do that — our episode starter packs are a great place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topics. It will help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion, influence China, North Korea, technology, futurism, crime, and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:35] As I mentioned the past couple of weeks, the new AI bot allows you to search for any episode, the content thereof, any Feedback Friday, any question, any promo code, give it a shot and check it out. jordanharbinger.com/ai is where you can find it. It's right there on the homepage of the website as well. Would love it if you would try and break it. See if you can get it to tell you that my mom was a racist, which was the fun little Easter egg that I found there. So the AI future really is here and it thinks everybody is a racist. Go check it out, jordanharbinger.com/ai.
[00:02:03] Today on the show, I think a lot of us have been through some sort of heartbreak, whether as a teenager or as an adult. It sucks. It's miserable. Sometimes, it's the most profound pain we've ever been through. What I didn't realize though, was that there were other effects that happen as a result. Some mental, some emotional, but others actually physical and hey, there might actually be a scientific basis for and treatment of heartbreak. I had no idea. Here to discuss the science of heartbreak is Florence Williams who went through heartbreak herself, quite profound heart. And set out on a journey to explain what she was seeing and feeling in her own body. Turns out the negative emotions we experience are actually just the very beginning of what heartbreak does to our body and our mind.
[00:02:42] Now here we go with Florence Williams.
[00:02:47] So Florence, I know that your journey with heartbreak led you to some pretty incredible science, actually, and I'd love to hear about that. And how we can use what you've learned. But first, though, a lot of people get into science because they're interested in school, and unfortunately, you get thrown into the fire from the sound of it.
[00:03:02] Florence Williams: Well, I've been a science journalist for a long time, my whole career pretty much. And so it's kind of natural that when something happens in my life that I'm interested in, I want to find out kind of what's going on molecularly, neuroscientific. So this is my third book, Heartbreak. And I guess it was just natural to me to sort of write it in the first person because that's what I've done.
[00:03:26] And I was like, okay, I feel terrible. I have never been heartbroken before. I don't understand why my body feels so weird and awful. I don't understand why I'm getting sick. I don't understand all these things. And so naturally, I was just kind of like, I'm going to put on my journalist. I'm going to talk to a bunch of scientists and I didn't know that it was going to be a book, but you know, I ended up kind of recording a bunch of interviews, just because that's what I do. And eventually, I talked to enough people who convinced me that what I was learning was so unexpected and fascinating and surprising. And I was like, okay, I think there's a book here, actually.
[00:04:06] Jordan Harbinger: It was something I'd never really heard about before. I mean, I've heard of heartbreak. I've heard of people having heartbroken after a divorce or something traumatizing like that. But I've never really heard of anything beyond that. You know, people, yes, they lose weight like you did. They have some physical health symptoms that they sort of chalk up to depression or whatever, but very rarely/never have I seen anybody be like, "Actually, here's what's going on in the brain." So I would love for you to sort of take us through the 30,000-foot overview of like the divorce and the pain from that and what you started to notice about your body besides just generally feeling awful.
[00:04:40] Florence Williams: So the context is that here I was on the brink of a 25-year marriage. I had actually been with my significant other of my spouse for 32 years since I was 18.
[00:04:52] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:04:53] Florence Williams: So my entire adult life, you know, pretty much attached to this other human being. You know what happens when you're living with someone that closely is your bodies really co-regulate. And there's a lot of science showing that people who are happily partnered live longer. And part of it is that we regulate each other's emotions. We kind of calm each other down. We boost each other when we're feeling happy. We comfort each other when we're not. You know, that's what a good marriage can provide. And so people in good marriages live longer. That's well known. But you know, not very much has been known about what happens when those ties get severed. I mean, there's so much literature and music and stuff like that, but I really wanted to know what was going on kind of inside my body and cellularly.
[00:05:39] So in terms of the neuroscience, I mean, that's what you asked, like what's happening to our brains. Well, we know that parts of our brains register social pain very, very strongly because as humans, you know, we're hyper-social animals. We're supposed to take these social ties incredibly strongly. And our past that really determined how successful we were as individuals. it determined whether we could procreate successfully, whether we could have enough food, whether we could survive if we were attacked by predators. All these things dependent on sort of being together in groups and in small kin groups as well.
[00:06:16] So our brains take it seriously, yeah.
[00:06:18] Jordan Harbinger: Our brains take it seriously. I'd love to hear what the brain scans say because, yeah, heartbreak is stressful. It's painful. Where does it fall on the scale between whatever and losing a loved one? Is there like a spectrum here of the stress and pain associated with that?
[00:06:32] Florence Williams: Well, we know that the parts of the brain that register this social pain, social loss, it's the same part of the brain essentially, that registers physical pain. So that's how seriously we take it. It's like if you have a huge toothache, for example.
[00:06:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:46] Florence Williams: You know, you're supposed to pay attention to that. You're supposed to deal with it. You're supposed to lie low if you have a fever, whatever. Pain triggers all these responses, behavioral responses. So social pain kind of does the same thing. It's supposed to be felt very, very seriously. And in fact, our brains have conserved this feeling. You know, that the neuro pathways have been there, you know, for eons, we're supposed to take it seriously. We know that it's, for example, in parts of the brain that are next to other basic drives that we have, like thirst and hunger. So it's there for a reason and we're supposed to feel it.
[00:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: But why? Why did we evolve this? Like why should my immune system give a crap if I've been dumped? I had a friend when I was growing up, his mother got cheated on and dumped, and she raised him alone and it was extremely stressful as it always would be for a single mom. And she ended up having like Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome and all these autoimmune things. And I remember thinking, "Wow, Mrs. So-and-so. She just has the worst luck." I mean, now it sounds like that wasn't luck. She went through this extreme stress, ended up with autoimmune stuff, but why would we evolve that? I just don't understand what, like what benefit would've that provided back in the day.
[00:07:56] Florence Williams: So, yeah, I mean, you know, we're not really supposed to be alone as humans, to be alone in our deep past. You know, when we were on the belt meant that we would be attacked by a predator, or it meant that we would injure ourselves and not be able to help ourselves. What happens when we lose our social support figure, even subconsciously, is we suddenly feel like we're in a new threat state. We have to pay attention in a way we haven't before. We're sort of looking over our shoulder, we're hypervigilant. Our cortisol levels are super high because at some subconscious level, we just don't feel safe.
[00:08:30] And so, you know, you mentioned our immune systems. One of the first people I talked to was this neuroimmunologist named Dr. Steve Cole at UCLA. He studies the genetic factors, the transcription factors of people who feel lonely, and that can be people who live alone or it can be people who you know may be married but feel lonely. It's kind of a subjective experience, but either way, whether you live alone or whether you feel lonely, you're more likely to have inflammation factors in your blood and in your immune system. And that's because your body is actually preparing for a flesh wound. It's preparing to be attacked because that's what happens when we're alone.
[00:09:08] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting. So is that why — a spoiler alert — is that one of the reasons that you developed diabetes, was that the inflammation and things like that, that were kicking off that did that?
[00:09:18] Florence Williams: You know, it's really impossible to say on an individual basis, you know, what causes your disease. What we do know is that people who are divorced, have a higher risk for early death. They have 26 percent increased risk of a bunch of diseases. Cardiovascular disease increases, your risk for dementia increases, neurocognitive decline, cancer — all of these things increase after divorce, you know, for at least a while.
[00:09:46] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I was going to say, that sucks because it's like you get divorced when you're 30 and you're like, "Oh, well I'm going to die young now. Thanks."
[00:09:52] Florence Williams: It seems incredibly unfair.
[00:09:54] Jordan Harbinger: It's incredibly unfair. Like, "I didn't even do anything. So-and-so cheats on me, dumps me, and now I'm going to die young. Like, screw you, pal."
[00:10:00] Florence Williams: Exactly.
[00:10:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:02] Florence Williams: The good news is that after, on average, after four years, us, divorce people tend to return to baseline.
[00:10:07] Jordan Harbinger: Oh good.
[00:10:08] Florence Williams: So we do tend to return to baseline health, but not everybody. So what's skewing the data? What makes you 26 percent more likely to die? It's that some people really don't recover from heartbreak. And I did not want to be one of those people.
[00:10:21] Jordan Harbinger: No kidding.
[00:10:22] Florence Williams: I was very motivated, you know, to try to figure out how to recover from my heartbreak, how to feel better and how to feel healthier.
[00:10:28] Jordan Harbinger: Is that then the same thing as chronic loneliness? I know loneliness raises our risk of early death and things like that, and that doesn't necessarily have to do with divorce, but is it the same, I don't know, mechanism? I mean, it's certainly the same outcome, early death.
[00:10:41] Florence Williams: It really is. And you know, some people aren't going to necessarily use the vocabulary, "Oh, I feel lonely after divorce."
[00:10:48] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:10:48] Florence Williams: But what's so interesting is that just on some subconscious level, our bodies recognize that we don't have the safety and social support that we had in our marriage.
[00:10:58] Jordan Harbinger: I know that Japan has, they have a ton of natural disasters, and of course, they have a word for this as it's like Takotsubo and leave it to Japan to have a specific word for how everyone feels like crap after something terrible happens. They've got a lot of natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, Godzilla, they just can't catch a break over there. But what is going on there? Why is everyone, is that just a term for everyone suffering the same grief and loss at the same time?
[00:11:22] Florence Williams: Well, Takotsubo actually refers to a particular kind of heart failure called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
[00:11:28] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:11:29] Florence Williams: The word Takotsubo means a lobster pot, which has this sort of large bulbous distension, and it turns out that that's what our hearts look like when we're suffering this kind of heart failure and often it arises after a natural disaster. It can arise after a huge emotional blow. Basically, some time when we're freaked out, we're more likely to suffer this particular kind of heart attack. So it's kind of a literal manifestation for that feeling or expression of a broken heart. What's actually happening on a cellular level is that we're freaked out. Our bodies are pumping out so much adrenaline that the receptors in the left ventricle of the heart fail and the heart sort of balloons out and can't pump. So it's only fatal in, I think, about five percent of cases, but 20 percent of people who suffer this kind of heart failure will go on to have heart complications. And you know, just an example of how, I think, it was Dr. William Osler, who was this cardiologist in the early part of the 1900s. He said, you know, many of the tragedies of life are arterial. We actually feel these emotions in the cells of our body.
[00:12:40] Jordan Harbinger: You wrote that love protects your heart while heartbreak weakens it. And I'm paraphrasing here, but is that real science? Because it sounds like something written on a Trapper Keeper from 1993, right? Love protects your heart and heartbreak weakens it. It's like, okay, but is that true? If we have a good loving relationship, does our heart get better?
[00:12:58] Florence Williams: Yeah, it does. You know, I mean, this is obviously not going to affect everyone who's in a marriage, and if you're in a sort of bad marriage or ho-ho marriage—
[00:13:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:06] Florence Williams: —that is not going to help your long-term health. But if you're in a good marriage, you know, if you look at the data over large population, yeah, those are the people who have the fewest heart attacks. They're also the people who, if they do get sick, they recover from illness more quickly.
[00:13:20] Jordan Harbinger: What does it mean if I recover quickly from my illnesses, but my wife is sick for a really long time? Let me think, what could that mean?
[00:13:27] Florence Williams: That's exactly what I was just going to point out. The benefits for marriage do seem to accrue more to men.
[00:13:33] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay. I was because I'm like, I recover in a few days. My wife's like, "Why am I always sick for like two months?"
[00:13:39] Florence Williams: Exactly.
[00:13:40] Jordan Harbinger: This is a pretty strong indictment of my companionship, I suppose.
[00:13:43] Florence Williams: And women who live alone often do great. They actually can live just as long a time. Those marital health benefits are largely for men.
[00:13:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's a raw deal either way. Oh my gosh. But we study love a lot, and I just thought a lot of those studies were sort of like nonsense, junk science, clickbait, because every Valentine's Day, every science magazine, the cover of in February is always like, "Who knew? Being in love has reward and pleasure center benefits something, something oxytocin, you know, sub-headline, your brain on love.
[00:14:16] Florence Williams: Right, right.
[00:14:17] Jordan Harbinger: What does our brain, a heartbreak brain look like in an MRI scanner?
[00:14:23] Florence Williams: Well, one thing we know in a scanner is that if you've been heartbroken and the researcher causes you some physical pain. For example, squishes your finger or pours hot water on your arm, your brain is actually going to register that physical pain more deeply, and it's going to last longer. Whereas if you're looking at a picture of a loved one, you're still in love, you're still happily partnered up with someone, you're going to register that pain as being not that big a deal.
[00:14:51] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:14:52] Florence Williams: So that may be one of the reasons why people can recover more quickly from surgery, they can recover more quickly from cancer, all these things, if they're happily paired up. And believe me, I find this really irritating because—
[00:15:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:03] Florence Williams: —there's enough pressure, you know, on all of us to kind of be part of this coupled culture. I guess the reassuring thing I can tell your listeners if you are single is that there are other replacements for romantic love. You know, you can have a very strong sense of social support from your friends. You can have it from your community, you can have it from your sister. You know, it doesn't have to be a romantic relationship but we all need to feel safe in order to really be healthy.
[00:15:30] Jordan Harbinger: You're right. It really, really, again, is such a raw deal because it's like, "Get married and have kids. Why aren't you married? Why don't you have kids? Oh, by the way, if you don't, you're going to die young."
[00:15:39] Florence Williams: Exactly.
[00:15:39] Jordan Harbinger: And every time you stub your toe, it's going to hurt way more than if I do because I'm happy and I'm paired up. Like, again—
[00:15:45] Florence Williams: Yeah, it's—
[00:15:45] Jordan Harbinger: —screw you, pal.
[00:15:46] Florence Williams: —very annoying.
[00:15:46] Jordan Harbinger: You're right. Yeah. I guess if we break up with somebody or they dump us, let's say, we still have romantic feelings for them. The fact that they're not there, the lack, right? Not just the loneliness, but sort of sudden removal from somebody. Is that similar to withdraw from anything else? Like a substance, for example?
[00:16:03] Florence Williams: It really is. We've become kind of addicted—
[00:16:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:06] Florence Williams: —to this person that we're attached because they do generate. You know, typically, if it's been a good relationship, at least good enough, they do generate a lot of these happy hormones, you know, the dopamine and the serotonin and the oxytocin. And in the absence of that person, we're still going to be longing for that kind of chemical fix. In some ways, there is a craving pattern that's similar to a drug withdrawal, and you can see that, I guess, on MRIs.
[00:16:33] From studies, for example, by anthropologist Helen Fisher, who's one of the few people who's actually scanned the brains of dumped people as opposed to scanning the brains of people still in love. And what she sees is, yeah, we still seem to have these kinds of activation in our craving centers. And so that's why you often hear this advice to not follow your ex on social media. Take down pictures that remind you of those happy times you. The more that you see those cues, the more you're going to be craving that person.
[00:17:06] Jordan Harbinger: That does make sense because just because you're rejected, it doesn't mean you stop loving that person, even if they stopped loving you and told you about it in a particularly hurtful kind of way. And if you're thinking about this person for 80 percent of your waking hours, it would cause some damage, just like an addiction. I'm wondering, you know, we hear things from people who are trying to kick a habit or addicts that can't get ahold of something and they have these, I guess you would say, hysterical reactions or inappropriate behavior. I'm wondering if there's a parallel between addict behavior and somebody who's been dumped, you know, because you hear about people who've been dumped and they might be normal, well-grounded people, but suddenly they're prank calling their ex at four o'clock in the morning, 40 times in a row, and you're just like, what? Who are you? You're not this person. You're being crazy.
[00:17:52] Florence Williams: There have been some really interesting psychological studies showing that when we feel rejected, we get really rageful.
[00:18:00] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:18:00] Florence Williams: And we lose some control over our frontal cortex, you know, our sort of rational brains. We act impulsively. We do stupid things. We often may sort of act out in terms of drinking more. We may sort of seek out unsafe sex. We may overeat, you know, all of these things that seem to be an indication of loss of impulse control. Unfortunately, often that rage takes the form of violence against the lost partner. So you see this, for example, with men more often. They do turn vengeful and we see domestic violence.
[00:18:41] Jordan Harbinger: I remember studying and doing some Feedback Friday questions where we give advice and it's these experts were saying, the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when you're trying to leave because it triggers that violence. And if it's an abusive relationship, the violence is already sort of omnipresent in the relationship. And then if you're leaving, it's like that's just a straight line to making that person feel rejected. And having that — what is it called? Abandonment rage kick in.
[00:19:06] Florence Williams: Abandonment rage.
[00:19:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:19:08] Florence Williams: Yeah. And it's the rejection that triggers that. We just become sort of consumed with this feeling of rejection. And again, our brains take this kind of social status really, really seriously. And now there's more research into this kind of rage because, unfortunately, you know, we're seeing these shooter events. And often the shooter is someone who feels isolated socially, who feels rejected socially. So we're learning a lot more about what that brain under that kind of abandonment and rejection can do.
[00:19:40] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Florence Williams. We'll be right back.
[00:19:45] This episode is sponsored in part by Blue Nile. Don't let Valentine's Day sneak up on you. It's only a few days away, but you've probably had your date plans on the calendar for weeks, of course. Of course, you have. But have you locked down the perfect Valentine's Day gift yet? Whether you're celebrating or ready to pop the question, you can find or create, which is what I did, no big deal, custom jewelry at bluenile.com. Blue Nile's bench jewelers will handcraft a ring based on what you want for the diamond shape, size, clarity, setting style, just the way you want it. Forget the usual hassles of jewelry shopping. Blue Nile has jewelry experts available 24/7 for questions, big or small. Plus, Blue Nile expects to have the lowest price and will match or beat a competitor's price if you find a diamond of comparable quality and characteristics, I think that's a pretty damn good guarantee. I didn't know that. Every order is insured and arrives quickly in discreet packaging that won't give away what's inside. Shipping is free and free returns too.
[00:20:36] Jen Harbinger: They've got a great deal right now. You can save up to 50 percent off at bluenile.com. That's blue nile.com for up to 50 percent off bluenile.com.
[00:20:45] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by TurboTax. Go to TurboTax and don't do your taxes. Meet with an expert who will do them for you. TurboTax experts can relieve you from the stress of taxes and file for you so you can do not taxes. Show your eyes things that are not taxes. Unpack a moving box of not taxes. Taste not taxes. Sing not taxes a lullaby. Hope not taxes, sleeps through the night. Grab a saddle and ride not taxes into the sunset. With TurboTax, an expert will do your taxes from start to finish, ensuring your taxes are done right guaranteed so you can relax. Feels good to be done with your taxes, doesn't it? Come to TurboTax and don't do your taxes. Visit turbotax.com to learn more. Intuit TurboTax, full-service products only. Video meeting while expert does your taxes required. See guaranteed details at turbotax.com/guarantees.
[00:21:31] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing authors and thinkers for the show, it's about the network and I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is all about improving your relationship-building skills in a non-cringey, non-gross way. Nothing awkward, nothing cheesy, just practical exercises that'll make you a better connector, a better colleague, a better peer. Six minutes a day, that's all it takes. The course is free, not like enter your credit card free, but free, free. Many of the guests on our show already subscribe and contribute to the course. So, hey, come join us, you'll be in smart company. You can find the course at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[00:22:07] Now, back to Florence Williams.
[00:22:11] Do women feel these emotions more intensely? You mentioned men are more violent. I'm wondering what other differences there are between the sexes. You know, do women lose more weight or have more hormonal dysregulation in a breakup? Like what are the other sort of differences here?
[00:22:25] Florence Williams: Yeah, I mean I think both men and women feel these kinds of heartbreaks, you know, really deeply. There are some slightly different trends in the way they feel them. I think women do tend to have more eating disorders. They may tend to express their loneliness more clearly, whereas men may kind of suppress it, not seek out friendships to help them as well. And so men may have this sort of longer term loneliness and depression. Women I think, feel the feelings harder, but then they kind of get over them more quickly because they're just better at building those friendships that are going to help them.
[00:23:01] Jordan Harbinger: What about animals? Do animals have these same processes? Do we know? I'm sure monkeys, primates, whatever they do because we're so similar, but what about a dog? We often project our emotions onto our pets, but so maybe a dog is not a great example. What about like a fish? Does a fish get heartbreak?
[00:23:18] Florence Williams: You know, I don't think we've been able to really study that sort of level of emotions in fish.
[00:23:23] Jordan Harbinger: Maybe not high in the list of priorities. Yeah.
[00:23:25] Florence Williams: But we do know this, you know, so many animals are herd animals or they're group animals and there are some fish that live in schools and we know that there's something in their brain that can register when they're suddenly sort of kicked out of the school or the school moves on without them. The stress levels in that fish are going to up. They know that they're supposed to be back in that group, and so there is some kind of really, really deeply evolved lineage. You know, in our brains that just say, alert, alert, alarm. We need to be with our people and we're not with our people all of a sudden.
[00:24:01] Jordan Harbinger: Earlier in the show you mentioned that partners help us maintain a stable self-concept. I meant to jump on that. What do you mean by that? What is that?
[00:24:08] Florence Williams: That's the sort of reassurance you get from having a partner who knows you really well.
[00:24:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:13] Florence Williams: And who can share in your successes and help you feel comfort during your disappointments. It's someone who reflects back at you. When you are close with someone that person will mimic your facial expressions, can mimic your gestures, can sort of make you feel like you're a part of something and like you're valid as a human being. And all of a sudden when that's gone, I think there's this little loss of ground. You know, you often hear heartbroken, people say things like, "I feel adrift. I feel unmoored."
[00:24:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:24:46] Florence Williams: "I feel like I've lost a limb." You know, there's something that feels like the whole is no longer. And it's really disorienting as an individual to feel like that.
[00:24:57] Jordan Harbinger: Is it worse if it happens with no warning, right? Let's say somebody is very sick and they're going to die, we know that they're going to be gone. It still hurts tremendously, but maybe it happened over a period of months. What happens if I come home and my wife's stuff is gone and I'm like, "Where are you?" And she's like, "You know? I don't love you anymore." And I'm like, "What is going on?" Is it worse then? It's certainly more sudden and more shocking. But are the effects worse?
[00:25:20] Florence Williams: So I think the weird thing about grief is that many of us feel it so differently and there's no kind of one way to feel grief. So it may be that someone whose spouse suddenly disappears or boyfriend or girlfriend suddenly takes off. Maybe, you know, able to handle that better than someone else who's caretaking over many years, which is also really depleting and devastating and ruinous for people's health. Actually, caretaking is really tough on your immune system, turns out. So grief isn't one of those things that's going to fall into an easy formula. It hurts no matter what, actually.
[00:25:55] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me more about what social rejection does to the brain.
[00:25:58] Florence Williams: Yeah. There have been some really interesting studies that kind of try to simulate rejection in a lab. And one of them, you know, a subject comes to the lab, they're partnered with someone. And then, that person is an actor who says something like, "Oh, actually I decided I want to work with someone else for this study, not you," and leaves. And what happens is that the person who's been rejected, the study subject, is then given an opportunity to put hot sauce in that person's cup for when they come back for a later study. And depending on how rejected that person feels, they're going to put more hot sauce in their partner's cup. And what we see, and this is really interesting, is that men who are rejected by their partner will — and these are heterosexual people. The men will put four times more hot sauce in their partner's cup than a woman will, which seems to indicate again, this kind of higher level of vengeance and sort of violent vengeance that men feel more than women.
[00:26:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Interest. Well, if only we just stuck with hot sauce, right? I think the problem—
[00:27:01] Florence Williams: Exactly.
[00:27:02] Jordan Harbinger: —that it really is sort of a good metric for what men will do. And it seems so petty, but also as a guy, I'm kind of like, "Yeah, you put that in. Do you have any things stronger than this Tabasco? This is amateur hour." I really feel if she did that in front of 20 people, "Give me the Cholula."
[00:27:16] Florence Williams: Yeah, the combination of rejection—
[00:27:18] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:27:19] Florence Williams: —and a loss of impulse control, not good.
[00:27:22] Jordan Harbinger: Social status, right, all this stuff just sort of blends together and it makes a pretty gnarly smoothie and it could use a little bit of spice. The thing is with the cognitive results of this, you mentioned in the book that that same study shows that those same people did more poorly on cognitive exams. So this seems woefully unfair because now it looks like being dumped actually makes us dumber. It just keeps getting worse.
[00:27:47] Florence Williams: And those people eat more cookies. If you put out plates of cookies in front of the people who got rejected, they're going to eat more. So again, it's like this loss of judgment, loss of impulse control.
[00:27:57] Jordan Harbinger: Gosh.
[00:27:58] Florence Williams: The good news is that it does not last forever, right? We go through these periods where we're incredibly dramatic, where we're very woe is me.
[00:28:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:08] Florence Williams: And it feels when it's happening, it just feels like a storm. It's really disorienting. It's miserable. You feel like, "Oh God, I'm going through this alone. Everyone else I know is paired up. Why am I the only person who's like by myself on Valentine's Day?" We all feel that way because heartbreak, while it's universal, it's actually not that common in terms of, you know, it's not a life experience we have often. We may go through a few big heartbreaks in our lives, not that many. And so it does feel like a lonely experience when it's happening, which is, again, why it's so important to talk to people who've been through it, why it's important, I think, helpful to listen to the sad songs and the heartbreak songs and read the poetry. It kind of reminds us that, yeah, this is a human experience.
[00:28:52] Jordan Harbinger: Man, we really are hypersensitive to rejection and I know that you mentioned before, it seems like a defense mechanism to being ostracized. You're not with the tribe, you're outside the city walls. And that the idea that social pain is the same type of pain as physical pain. Does that mean we can treat the pain with, well, one, drugs, but two, maybe placebo? Is there like a heartbreak pill that's just a sugar pill that we could do? I mean, it makes sense that that's why when you go to the witch doctor for this, they're like lighter red candle and mix in some eye of newt in your, I don't know, hot sauce smoothie and you'll be better because placebo would theoretically work for this.
[00:29:28] Florence Williams: Well, it's a great question and it's one that a couple of neuroscientists have, largely actually after their own heartbreaks. There's one Dr. Tor Wager at the University of Colorado. He studies the placebo effect and he wondered if you could give a placebo to someone who's experiencing social pain and have a similar effect of someone who's experiencing physical pain. And he found that, in fact, it did help and you can see this in brain imaging. And there's another researcher who decided, well, okay, if a placebo works, what about just really taking an aspirin? Will taking an aspirin or taking an anti-inflammatory, smoking some weed, will these things that help us with physical pain, can they help with social pain? And it turns out that those things all do help a little bit as well.
[00:30:15] Jordan Harbinger: So maybe next time you can take Tylenol for heartbreak or something harder depending on how severe the pain really is and what you can get your hands on.
[00:30:21] Florence Williams: Well, you know, there's this theory that one of the reasons we're seeing such an incredible kind of epidemic of opioid addiction is because people are lonely. You know, these drugs do act on our oxytocin receptors in our brains. They act on the sort of endorphin system that is normally activated by social happiness, togetherness. You know, mother-child relationships will activate these oxytocin centers in our brain. And in the absence of that kind of relationship, people are really looking for another substitute. That's why sometimes I think we're seeing so much addiction right now.
[00:30:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And the pandemic probably didn't help with that either. And then, of course, the fact that, oh man, I'm dreading the fact that we may be heading into a recession because that's going to make other problems compound it. I mean, we must see spikes in all of that. Can't painkillers then numb us to empathy as well? I know there's a mention of this in the book. I'd love to hear more about that because usually we think of painkillers as numbing pain, not as also numbing other feelings that we like or need.
[00:31:21] Florence Williams: Sure. You know, it's tempting to want to just erase our pain with a bunch of ibuprofen or whatever, when we're feeling heartbreak or a bunch of weed. But in studies that have looked at how we process emotions on those drugs, it looks like we also damp down our ability to feel pleasure. So not something that you want to do lightly. You don't want to just cut off your ability to feel as tempting as that may be in the short term. But ultimately, that does not help our feelings of humanity and togetherness and connection that we need for a really long-term improvement.
[00:31:54] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like a heartbreak medication might be on the way. I mean, big pharma would love nothing more than another drug that literally everyone would need at some point in their lives.
[00:32:04] Florence Williams: Well, you know, what's interesting? I do talk in the book about, one of my attempts to feel better was to do some psychedelic-assisted therapy.
[00:32:11] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to ask about that. Yeah, like go see the Northern Lights and/or mushrooms, whatever you can, under the care of a doctor, of course, supervision. But yeah, like how did that go?
[00:32:22] Florence Williams: It is in some ways a heartbreak drug, MDMA. It can make us process emotions in a sort of more rational way. It can help us feel less ashamed, less threatened by these emotions we're feeling. The idea is that we can process this pain sort of more easily if we're slightly detached from it, or so slightly detached, I guess, from kind of the emotional extremes of it. Yeah, I mean, there are quite a few therapists out there, you know, now getting trained because there are states that are legalizing some of these substances. We're seeing more clinical trials. You hear about MDMA or ecstasy often being helpful for couples counseling. It helps kind of open your heart up. You can hear your partner kind of more openly without feeling so fear-based or threatened. But it turns out they can also really be helpful in breaking up because of those same kind of heart-opening reasons.
[00:33:20] Jordan Harbinger: You said in the book that white blood cells, they can listen for loneliness. What does that mean? How does that work?
[00:33:26] Florence Williams: I learned this from working with neuroimmunologist, Steve Cole at UCLA, who studies the health effects of loneliness, you know, on people's health. And we decided to actually take blood samples from me at various time points after the divorce. When we were looking for inflammation factors, other factors in the white blood cells, and he has been promoting this idea that heartbreak is really bad for you.
[00:33:50] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:33:51] Florence Williams: In fact, he called it, the words he used, he said, heartbreak is one of the hidden landmines of human existence because it can have such traumatic effects on our immune systems. And in fact, when he analyzed my blood cells not so far out from the divorce, I guess, it was like five months after my split. My blood cells were expressing more factors, transcription factors for inflammation, and at the same time, I was producing fewer cells that are good at fighting viruses. And you know, this is not such news you want to hear in the middle of a pandemic, certainly.
[00:34:24] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:34:24] Florence Williams: But the evolutionary kind of theory for this is kind of interesting. And what he says is, yeah, our bodies are putting out more inflammation because now we feel like we're alone. You know, we're going to have to prepare for more injuries and flesh wounds. And at the same time, because we're alone, we're not going to be facing as many viruses, which are spread in groups. So our immune systems can't do everything. So they're sort of making this calculation, real-time calculation.
[00:34:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:34:49] Florence Williams: That's like, okay, let's put out more immune factors. And that can be adaptive if, in fact, you are alone traipsing through the jungle. But if you're feeling lonely and heartbroken for months and months, and for some people years and years, this is where you start to get the chronic diseases and the risk of those increasing because of these increased inflammation factors in our blood.
[00:35:09] Jordan Harbinger: Basically, if we lose our tribe and we have to struggle on alone, it's better to have inflammation because we might be fighting off animals and/or other humans or getting cut on brambles or whatever in our wandering through the jungle, but right, then we don't have to worry about catching a respiratory disease because we're not around other people. So the body is just, this is one of those things where you're just like, damn. That's fascinating.
[00:35:31] Florence Williams: Yeah. But it would be nice if actually our environment still matched, our physical responses. Of course, now—
[00:35:37] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:35:37] Florence Williams: —you know, we're not stumbling through the jungle alone.
[00:35:39] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:35:39] Florence Williams: And it's the chronic diseases that our culture tends to need to worry about. Of course, now we do also worry about some viral diseases.
[00:35:46] Jordan Harbinger: Does it matter if the relationship is longer or shorter? In other words, is it the longer the relationship, the more severe these things kick in or can it be a short relationship and have the same effect?
[00:35:58] Florence Williams: You know, it really seems to depend on the individual. There are some traits, personality traits. There are some individual histories that make us less resilient in the face of heartbreak. So some people just take it harder, and that could be true after a short relationship. It could be true after a long relationship. There's no kind of guaranteed calculus, you know, of how long a relationship has to be for it to hurt. What I did learn is that there are some things that can make us more resilient after heartbreak, so that we're less likely to stay sick or stay fully inflamed in our immune system for a long time.
[00:36:32] I talked to one psychologist pretty early on who says, "Yeah, you know, bad things happen in life, and the people who seem to be able to skate through those hard times are the ones who are really able to feel connected to the world around them. They're able to appreciate beauty in the world and appreciate this sense of awe, which is a human emotion that's been kind of understudied. But, you know, if you think about it, when you experience awe or you experience really profound beauty, what happens is you sort of go out of your own head. You stop thinking about that soundtrack of your own miserable day and you start thinking, "Oh my God, look at that Milky Way, or look at the Grand Canyon." It's just like stops you. And it makes you feel like you're part of the universe, which in fact turns out is a great antidote for loneliness.
[00:37:25] You don't hear that very often as a prescription for heartbreak. You know? Yeah, go look at the Grand Canyon. You'll get over your heartbreak.
[00:37:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:37:33] Florence Williams: And that's one of the reasons I really wanted to write this book. I felt like that was such an interesting piece of advice that we just don't hear very often.
[00:37:39] Jordan Harbinger: You don't hear it because nobody says, "Oh, I'm so sorry that that didn't work out, honey. But look, it's Halley's Comet, you'll be all right." If somebody told me that, I'd be like, get out, this is not helpful. Go away. You, cook." I suppose this feeling of oneness or whatever that, you know, you hear about it from astronauts who look at the earth and there's a term for it. I forgot.
[00:37:56] Florence Williams: The overview effect.
[00:37:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yes. And they look at the earth and they're like, "Oh my gosh. It's not about the Cold War, suddenly. It's about we're all connected. Look how lonely we are on this planet/together."
[00:38:06] Florence Williams: Exactly. We're all in it together. And there's nothing to make you feel better than that. You know, you do have a group you belong to. It's called the universe, and it's not easy to access that just as you're sort of bumbling through your day. But when you're out in nature or when you're looking at art or when you're on some of these psychedelics, you really feel that loss of ego in a way that's incredibly helpful if you're suffering,
[00:38:36] Jordan Harbinger: this is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Florence Williams. We'll be right.
[00:38:40] A lot of people ask me how I'm able to stick to my fitness routine, especially since I have such a bananas schedule. For me, it's really creating a routine that is sustainable and can be duplicated on an ongoing basis. Consistency is the key, right? And Peloton helps me have a sustainable fitness routine because there are thousands of classes to choose from. It's also 24/7. I've always got time for it. I might only have 15 minutes in between calls, but I can still fit in a Peloton class. Peloton is really famous for their bikes, but they also make a top-notch rowing machine that stores upright, which you think no big deal. But when you try to have a rower on the floor, you'll be so glad this thing goes upright. If you're a newbie to rowing, the Peloton Row has sensors that can track your movements, that shows you how your form is doing, and it warns you if you're doing something wrong that could injure you or whatever. And right now is the perfect time to get rowing. With Peloton Row, we can promise you've never rowed like this before. Peloton Row offers a variety of classes for all levels and game-changing features that help you get rowing or advance what you can already do. Explore Peloton Row and financing options at onepeloton.com/row.
[00:39:41] This episode is also sponsored by HVMN. You've probably heard the buzz about ketones supplements. You've heard me nagging you about it on the show as well. They do boost workouts by helping your body use fatty acids for fuel, especially if you're working out in the morning and you're kind of half asleep like I often am. For several months now, I've been trying HVMN's Ketone-IQ supplement before my morning workout. Focused energy, no jitters, like those caffeine sort of energy drink type of things or those pre-workout things. Kind of more of a feeling of being in the zone or focused. Ketone-IQ comes in portable, convenient shots, which are good for on-the-go cycling, long runs, even going from meeting to meeting. I know a lot of these fancy health influencers are into this stuff because I'm always little skeptical of this kind of stuff. I asked my elite athlete friends their end of this stuff. Apolo Ohno told me that he approves of these for hard workouts, stuff like that, although I can't speak for him, I shouldn't speak for him. I find myself much more focused and less hungry during workouts. Better endurance, I don't get that crash or slowdown near the end. So if you're working out hard or you're training for something, definitely give Ketone-IQ a try and let me know what you think of it.
[00:40:43] Jen Harbinger: And you can get 20 percent off your order of Ketone-IQ, just go to HVMN.com promo code JORDAN. Again, that's HVMN.com and use promo code JORDAN for 20 percent off Ketone-IQ.
[00:40:55] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, if you like this episode of the show, I invite you to do what other smart and considerate listeners do, which is take a moment and support our amazing sponsors. All of the deals and discount codes are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the AI search bot or the search on the website over at jordanharbinger.com. Please consider supporting those who support this show.
[00:41:15] Now for the rest of my conversation with Florence William.
[00:41:20] You said in the book that social isolation and loneliness results in more tribalism politically, and I'm paraphrasing here. It makes us more fearful of the other. Can you explain this a bit? Because I'd never heard that before, but man, if you look at the Internet, does that ring true?
[00:41:34] Florence Williams: Yeah, doesn't it? I mean, sociologists have been studying this. Why is it that social division is so strong right now? It may be that when we're sort of lonely or when we're feeling like we're not integrated into our communities in healthy ways, we're going to seek a tribe. And we're going to try to find one pretty quickly. And boy, the Internet sure makes that easy. Like, let's find a tribe. "Here's a group that is going to accept me, and here's a group, yeah, I can say I believe these things too, and I'm not so lonely anymore." Unfortunately, what that means is that there's another group that you're often hostile against, right? Tribalism is, it can feel good in the moment if you're part of the tribe, but if you're out of the tribe, it's not so good.
[00:42:15] Jordan Harbinger: Well, that's the idea, right? And I've talked about this on the show before. Places like North Korea for example, or Russia right now, they're constantly saying, "Hey, you think things are bad here. Those people are trying to kill you." But for this tyrannical leader that starves you and treats you terribly and gives you no freedom, but for Kim Jong-Un, the Americans would march in here and throw your babies down a well, and that they have paintings and writing that says that. And so that's the tribalism, and now we see it online. "The left is doing this and the right, crazy right is doing that. They're coming for your body. They're coming for your guns," whatever it is. And some of that stuff is actually true in a way if you read it, right? But like Tucker Carlson and/or the crazy people on the Internet on the other side. They're right there trying to do this because they get clicks. They're trying to create tribalism because it's good for their business.
[00:43:08] Florence Williams: And it's also fueled by feelings of fear and uncertainty, which we certainly have a lot of in our world right now.
[00:43:15] Jordan Harbinger: And look, I know Tucker Carlson fans are going to be like, but what about everyone on both sides of the aisle is doing this? Because everybody on the left and the right has figured out that this is good for business and they're all being a-h*les. I'm not singling out one person, he just happens to be the guy I read about this morning, right? Who's doing it in the latest, whatever drama online? But you write in the book that our brain changes the way that it thinks when it's in threat mode, and it affects our ability to consider other people's feelings because we're essentially in a permanent state of alarm or arousal and not the good kind of arousal either. And that makes total sense because you see when people are afraid of something, especially the evil other guy, man, they are just terrible. And I'm not just talking about it on the Internet. We see it all the time in combat scenarios, whether that's in Ukraine or in the comments on Instagram, it seems like people are just going after it.
[00:44:07] Florence Williams: We see it in laboratory animals even, like mice in bowls. So for example, if you take a mice and you socially isolate that mice, you remove that mice from its family unit and you put it in a cage by itself for a while—
[00:44:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mouse, yeah.
[00:44:20] Florence Williams: —and then you reintroduce that mouse to a bunch of other mice. That mouse who's been socially isolated is going to act like a freak.
[00:44:27] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:44:27] Florence Williams: It's going to be really paranoid, is going to be more violent, is going to be more aggressive. more likely to attack new mice coming in.
[00:44:34] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:44:34] Florence Williams: And humans do something similar.
[00:44:36] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say, it sounds like high school.
[00:44:37] Florence Williams: It sounds like high school.
[00:44:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:44:38] Florence Williams: But it's one of the ironies of being lonely, that if you are someone who's feeling lonely, it's harder to make friends actually, because you may be more looking for threat. You may feel less trusting. You're more likely to imbue a person who's reaching out to you with suspicion. You're sort of looking over your shoulder more, and this is because you do feel more threatened as someone who's been alone for a long time.
[00:45:05] Jordan Harbinger: Gosh, the COVID lockdown stuff in the US and in China. I mean, do you think we're going to see a bunch of fallout from that then? You mentioned the addiction and the opiate stuff, but I wonder if there's going to be residual damage from people who couldn't go out for three years. And by the way, not a political statement, no matter what your politics, the fact is that a lot of people had bad isolating experiences during these lockdowns that have just sort of recently ended.
[00:45:28] Florence Williams: Yeah, I mean, fortunately, you know, in the US, we didn't really have what I would see classic lockdown. We had sort of voluntary lockdown. There were a lot of people who just didn't feel safe leaving their homes, but you certainly could.
[00:45:38] Jordan Harbinger: But you'd still have the effects, right? Even if you self-isolated, wouldn't you still have the effects?
[00:45:42] Florence Williams: Absolutely. And I think it is a concern for sure. I mean, we have seen loneliness increase, you know, subjectively. If you ask people, do you feel lonely? There are more people responding to that now than there were before. We're seeing more mental health issues across the board, more anxiety, more depression. Some of that is because of social isolation and some of it is just because the world just seems really like it's a kind of a mess right now.
[00:46:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We've done shows on this with like Steven Pinker who says, actually now's a great time to be alive and here's all this data.
[00:46:11] Florence Williams: Yeah.
[00:46:11] Jordan Harbinger: But it kind of doesn't matter what the data says, it matters what we are taking in every five minutes with news and social media, which says, "The economy sucks. Putin's going to nuke. There's diseases that we don't even know about that are just variants of COVID. And also the Chinese are going to take over and maybe make us sick. And the left wants to kill you, but also the right wants to kill you." I mean, that's what we're seeing. So it doesn't matter if I read a book three years ago that says, "Actually, now is a great time to be alive." It's like that is just a drop in the bucket. Or a drop in the ocean of bad news that's coming our way constantly.
[00:46:42] Florence Williams: Well, and I think this is why the cures for heartbreak are so good to remember because they're sort of good for all of us in terms of finding more peace and stability and comfort in the world. The cures for heartbreak are things like experiencing awe, experiencing beauty. Those are the things that are going to remind us that actually the earth is a beautiful place. You know, that we do feel connected to something larger than us, that we are capable of having mystical experiences. That we're capable of feeling peace and calm and not just this constant state of threat. There's something about spending time in nature that reminds us that cycles change, that these threats and these feelings that feel suffering are transient and that they will pass, and that we all have so much in common. We all kind of live under the same Milky Way. I think it's actually very inspiring and optimistic if we can kind of get out of that little rabbit hole of pain, you know, that we find ourselves in.
[00:47:40] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned the immune system and how that sort of takes a hit when we get to or have a breakup or experience heartbreak, can we rehabilitate that manually in some way? You mentioned awe, you mentioned psychedelics. Great. Going out in nature, dropping some acid, that's all fine and good. Was there anything else?
[00:47:56] Florence Williams: I didn't actually drop acid.
[00:47:57] Jordan Harbinger: I'm putting words in your mouth.
[00:47:59] Florence Williams: Yeah, I mean, that's the good news. You know, our immune systems respond in real times. So that if we get to a place where we feel safer, where we feel happier, our immune systems can change again and they can in fact start to strengthen. And that's why we can start to feel better.
[00:48:13] So what I did after talking to a lot of the researchers about what does improve your immune system, there were a couple of things that really stood out and they're not necessarily what you'd expect. Like you think if your genes are reading your loneliness, that you should just go out and hang out with other people and your genes will respond and get healthier. But there's actually a lot of science showing that what improves our immune system is a sense of purpose. Finding meaning in sort of our suffering, helping other people, figuring out what it is we can do that gives us a place in the world to help other people. This is actually what moves the needle in terms of improving the transcription factors in our genes. And that really surprised me. You know, I hadn't heard that before, that it's this kind of happiness that's not so much linked to mirth and, you know, watching comedies and eating ice cream, you know, that's the kind of happiness I think so many of us are kind of programmed to look for in our society.
[00:49:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:49:12] Florence Williams: But it's this kind of what the Greeks call eudaimonic happiness. It's a longer game. You know where your life is full of meaning and purpose and you feel like you're doing something worthwhile on this planet. That's the kind of happiness that is ultimately going to make us healthier in the long run.
[00:49:30] Jordan Harbinger: So maybe instead of, well, actually, who are we kidding? Maybe in addition to eating ice cream—
[00:49:35] Florence Williams: Yes.
[00:49:35] Jordan Harbinger: —we also volunteer with kids or something like that, and we get that sense of purpose and we get that Ben & Jerry's.
[00:49:43] Florence Williams: Right, don't take away the ice cream.
[00:49:44] Jordan Harbinger: No. Why would we do that? Plus that's such a low-hanging fruit. I mean, you can pick it up at the grocery store. We're good there. Netflix, and then also volunteering for children like that. Okay. I like this combination.
[00:49:55] Florence Williams: Yeah. Or you know, working on a craft or doing something that has a longer term gain. It's not just a media gratification, it's not just something you can spend money on and download this comedy and you're going to feel great. It's something that may not put a smile on your face all day long, but ultimately is going to give your life a sense of purpose.
[00:50:14] Jordan Harbinger: So podcasting. Got it.
[00:50:16] Florence Williams: There you go.
[00:50:16] Jordan Harbinger: But for real, I think this show does fill that purpose for me. A friend of mine was like, "What if you found out you only had six months to live?" And I'm like, "Oh, I'd have to make this list of people I want to interview. And I'd be like, I'm going to die in six months. You can't tell me no." You know, it'd be the killer guest list, man. So I'd love to end with some practicals. We talked about MDMA. We talked about going out and seeing the Grand Canyon/Haley's Comet. Tell me a little bit more about what we can do or what we can do, not only experience awe, but what other options we might have aside from drugs, which we know are not a good option.
[00:50:49] Florence Williams: Well, whether you're recovering from heartbreak or some other kind of stressful grief, I would say that the solutions kind of fall into three buckets. And the first is we need to kind of calm down. So when we're in that fight-or-flight state, when we feel really anxious, which many of us do after heartbreak, it's important to do what you need to do to feel calmer. So whether that's meditation or exercise, or looking at art or singing or dancing, you know, just calm your nervous system down. The second piece is connection. So connecting to people you love, connecting to your friends, connecting to the natural world, this is going to help you feel less lonely, more a part of something else. And then the final piece is this purpose. And that's I think a little bit unexpected, a little bit harder to do, but figure out the why in your life. What can you do to move outside of yourself and to help those around you? How can you make the world a better place? What are the lessons from your heartbreaking experience that you can take moving forward?
[00:51:49] Jordan Harbinger: You know, this reminds me a little bit of what you hear about when people study wisdom from ancient tribes, right? It's everything is connected. We are all connected. They're really close to nature. They have a lot of ceremonial stuff that has to do with either looking at the sky or looking at the natural world. This science sort of backs up. A lot of what this tribal wisdom seems to teach. Or am I connecting dots that aren't there?
[00:52:13] Florence Williams: No, you're right. I think there is so much ancient wisdom here. And now, what's so interesting is we have the neuroscience, we have the genetics that backs this up. We can see how our cells are listening to our social state, to our sense of belonging. And now it's confirmed. You know, if you can do those things, if you can feel more engaged, if you can feel more connected, it's good for your soul and it's good for your health.
[00:52:35] Jordan Harbinger: There we go. Sounds like Avatar. Thank you so much. This is really interesting. I just, I love the idea that heartbreak is something treatable and also that the treatment is not just opiates or alcohol. I think it's fascinating how connected our feelings are to our body and to our genetics, such as all this stuff just really is so, so interesting. And thank you for coming on the show and I'm sorry you went through that experience, but the results are pretty cool for the rest of us.
[00:53:03] Florence Williams: Thank you, Jordan. Thanks for having me. It's been fun.
[00:53:08] Jordan Harbinger: You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show about how hormonal birth control can affect a woman's personality and even influence who they pick as a partner.
[00:53:16] Sarah Hill: They found that women who are on the birth control pill rather than experiencing a big surge in the stress hormone cortisol in response to stressful things, they don't have any increase in cortisol at all. It seems like something in the birth control pill is actually causing women's stress response to go into overdrive. And in fact, this sort of a pattern is something that we usually only see in the context of chronic stress. So people who have, for example, PTSD or people who grew up in the context of trauma, this isn't normal. This isn't something that we see in, otherwise healthy, high functioning people.
[00:53:59] Sex hormones have their fingers in so many pots in the body that they're going to be influencing our brain because there's probably no place in the body that has more receptors for sex hormones than the brain. Our sex hormones are part of what gives us our joie de vivre. It's like part of what makes life exciting and it turns the volume up and makes our whites whiter and our brights brighter in terms of our sort of experience of the world.
[00:54:27] We've been really, really cavalier about this idea that we should change a person's personality and who they are and their experiences in the world. So that way they don't have menstrual cramps. We don't yet know whether or not the birth control pill is influencing the way that women's brains are being organized. And there's almost no research on this. It's like nobody's really stopped to ask the questions.
[00:54:52] Jordan Harbinger: To hear more from Dr. Sarah Hill about the problems with taking birth control, check out episode 280 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:54:59] Really fascinating. I had no idea what heartbreak actually was, other than some ambiguously sad feeling of rejection turns out it's much worse. Pair bonding is the basis of love, which is the basis of evolution of families, language cooperation, basically, the underpinning of civilization itself in many ways, and what humans have built is largely all because we are bonded to each other in these ways. Of course, that means that pair bonding is going to change the brain. It's going to give us something to yearn for and something to lose. So basically, falling in love puts a loaded gun to our heads. Thanks, evolution.
[00:55:32] I really found it interesting how stress, fear, mRNA, inflammation all work in our body conditions like shock actually showing up in the blood, really kind of disturbing. It shows you how pervasive some of these emotional reactions can really be. We've also seen what happens in the brains of socially isolated mice. I'm not going to get into the specifics, but they become aggressive and it's not pretty. A lot of other damaging changes there as well. Also, if you study the history of this, way back when a lot of children were separated from their parents at birth for various reasons. Doctors used to think it was good for them. Ugh. Safety concerns during war, of course. Many of you heard of the Romanian orphan study, which really highlights this. These orphans were never really cared for, never really touched, never really hugged, dramatic and negative results. But there is hope, exciting stuff with psychedelics, MDMA, and loneliness. I've got a ex-marine buddy who is doing some therapy for his PTSD using MDMA. A lot of promising stuff that can help break these patterns because we're not going to avoid heartbreak. We're not going to avoid loneliness. Many of us aren't anyways. Of course, it helps you if you have those strong relationships, but naturally we're not all so lucky.
[00:56:35] And a big thank you to Florence Williams. All things Florence will be linked in the website, in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Check out the ChatGPT bot at jordanharbinger.com/ai to search for any content of any episodes. Naturally, the transcripts are also in the show notes, videos on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, ways to support the show all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I said it once, but I'll say it again. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or connect with me right there on LinkedIn.
[00:57:06] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same systems, software, and tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course, and that course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. Build relationships before you need them. And of course, many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:57:29] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting, if you know somebody who's experiencing or experienced some heartbreak or just somebody who's going to nerd out on the science, definitely share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next.
[00:58:03] Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.