WWB Book Wise Club

The World Wise Beauty Spring 22 Book Wise Pick is ‘Heartbreak’ ~A Personal and Scientific Journey

Laura Opening- It’s a pleasure to have Florence Williams back at World Wise Beauty to chat about her latest book ‘Heartbreak’ a Personal and Scientific journey. Her previous book ‘Nature Fix’ is a favorite of mine and I highly recommend readers check it out if you missed it. I chose Heartbreak as the Spring Book Wise pick because I believe there are a-lot of heartbroken people out there right now. I also think it opens up a great conversation in our culture about our human social condition and the danger of too much isolation. From a wellness perspective the book elevates the understanding that our emotional health is supremely important to our physical health. There is so much to be gleaned from her latest book ‘Heartbreak’ and it deserves a strong introduction.


To start, Heartbreak is full of fascinating cutting-edge science on the effects of heartbreak on our mind, body, and spirit, while also being a raw personal story of the author’s own experience with heartbreak and her desire to speed up the healing process. Sound heavy? Well it is, but the research and her travel stories makes it bearable and extremely fascinating.


The book is also an examination of the unraveling of a ‘self’ when we experience separation from our loved ones. It seems some relationships and marriages can either nurture our growth and enhance our well-being, or they can force parts of our identity into jail-cells and make us sick. It’s complicated! While you can become sick from a heartbreak, Florence discovered unhappy marriages can also chronically affect our health negatively. There is a lot of grey area with this topic, but it’s fascinating to learn just how important the quality of our attachments and social connectedness is to our health. But don’t lock up your heart just yet, it’s all survivable. It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all right?


I was impressed with how Florence merged her discovery of social science with her own account of grief and healing. Studying ‘social pain’ and why heartbreak hurts so much is no easy task when your own heart is aching from the loss of your marriage. I think doing the research for her book was a creative and empowering approach for getting through her loss and pain. No-one wants to hear “time heals all wounds”, but if not a healer, time can allow us space to breathe, restore, and recover.

On the upside, Florence has definitely made it through, and came out on the other side of her heartbreak stronger, wiser, and open to what’s next in her life. She also wrote an enlightening book for us all to reflect on. Florence William’s ‘Heartbreak’ is not just about heartbreak and divorce, it is also about how we human beings are hardwired for social connection, belonging, and interdependence. Before I get started with questions for Florence, I would like to share with her and my readers wise words from an Irish scholar and writer John O’Donohue.

“The Human Heart is a Theater of Longing.”
The arduous task of being a human is to balance longing and belonging so that they work with and against each other to ensure that all the potential and gifts that sleep in the clay of the heart may be awakened and realized in this one life.” ~John O’Donohue

Amen to that, and bravo to all of us on the hero’s journey of loving, connecting, and belonging. ‘Heartbreak’ is a must read if you want to understand how each part of our holistic being (mind, body, spirit) can guide us well if we attune to the trinity and nourish our social human experience.


Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty



Laura Q- Thank you for joining me Florence to explore your new book ‘Heartbreak’. From a wellness lens your book connects dots I’ve embraced about holistic wellness over my lifetime. You met with many experts and I thought I’d ask you which area of science focused on social pain (i.e., heartbreak) really blew your mind? With reflection can you share a personal aha moment that deepened your understanding of yourself and the pain from the divorce?



Florence Williams: First of all, Laura, thanks for the generous and thoughtful summary of the book. And I love the O’Donohue quote so much. In terms of social pain, the biggest aha moments revolved about how and why our bodies hold and register this pain. Scientists explained to me that our nervous system doesn’t make the distinction between being rejected in love and feeling literally abandoned, left alone on the savannah. No wonder we become hypervigilant, unable to sleep, ready to fight or flee, have difficulty concentrating, seriously stressed out. We feel unsafe; we feel our very survival is in jeopardy. Heartbreak is so much more than just sadness. It requires a full reckoning with our ability to survive, much less thrive.  This kind of emotional pain is trauma. Not only do we feel imperiled, but we also feel our core identity is in flux, and our ability to move through the world is at least temporarily impaired.


Laura Q- Yes, I think the challenging part of the losing people we bond with whether it be a spouse, friend, or parent is what you candidly talk about in your book. It’s scary! When we experience a broken marriage, sometimes a part of our identity is enmeshed with the person who is no longer there, and we are left unmoored. This is probably why lots of experts recommend we grow and individuate before we plunge into a marriage. Love and commitment can be wonderfully expansive (when it’s good), but it also demands a certain amount of sacrifice when the ‘self’ takes a back seat to the expansiveness of the union. Can you share what you have learned about our human relationships from your research?


Florence Williams: Yes, that is all true. And it’s probably especially true for heterosexual women, who tend to defer to male partners in creating the culture of the relationship, and who also derive more of their identities more from their roles as wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, etc. Researchers told me that while men experience grief from romantic heartbreak, they may experience more of an identity crisis if they get fired from a job. There are other gender disparities as well. Some research suggests that men tend to take sexual infidelity more seriously while women object more to emotional infidelity.

When a man gets rejected, he is more likely to turn violent and vengeful (and the violence is often directed at women). After divorce, men end up with more resources and enjoy higher earning potential. Divorced women are twice as likely to end up living in poverty. Women pay a higher price on the dating market for being middle-aged and older. Men are more likely to re-marry and to do it faster. But if men don’t remarry, they are more likely to suffer health consequences and to die earlier than their married or re-married peers. Single and divorced women do better on average than divorced men health-wise as they age, but not if they are too poor to afford good health insurance. In general, both sexes are more likely than their married peers to be depressed, to be lonely, and to suffer from chronic illness. The worst health effects occur in the first 4 years after separation.

Laura Q-  Now that’s depressing research considering half of our country is divorced! One of the genomic researchers you worked with Steve Cole said ‘loneliness is one of the most toxic risk factors known to human health.” What is sad is it seems to be widespread and growing in America. This is why connecting the dots in science is so important. Stress affects our immune systems, and isolation and loneliness can increase our levels of cortisol in our bodies. Our mind, body, and spirit are connected and interdependent. When we care for all three, we protect ourselves from dis-ease. Can you expand on Steve’s important research in this context? And maybe throw in a silver lining!


Florence Williams: Our bodies do not like to be lonely. They take it seriously enough that, according to Cole, our white blood cells in our immune systems actually “listen for loneliness.” If we feel we are alone in the world, without strong social support, our bodies know we are more likely to get injured, perhaps because we are easier prey for predators. So our immune systems try to be helpful by up-regulating inflammation, which is good for wound-healing, and by down-regulating virus-fighting genes, because viruses are spread in groups. It’s exactly the wrong response for modern life, (hello, pandemic) and when we live long enough to suffer the woes of inflammation-mediated chronic disease like diabetes, hypertension, dementia, and metastatic cancer. The silver lining is that we know all this, and we can work hard to forge more meaningful connections – both to people and to the natural world. Our relationships are more important for health than we used to think. And we know access to nature can reduce stress, improve our immune systems, and boost our sociable nature by making us happier and healthier. We need more parks, greener cities and schools, and more equitable access to these resources.


Laura Q and Closing– The topics we touched on here are just snippets of what you will learn in ‘Heartbreak’. For the single and unattached people reading this, there is hope in the science too! Florence, can you share with us the difference between Hedonic happiness and Eudaemonic fulfillment. What does research bear out? Thank you for sharing your journey, and personal wisdom Florence! Wishing you peace in your heart.

Florence Closing: I was fascinated to learn that some of the anecdotes to loneliness and heartbreak are not necessarily new relationships or more friends. When Cole looks at the genetic markers in our immune cells, he finds the healthiest people are the ones who report they have meaning and purpose in their lives. This is classic eudaimonic happiness, not the kind we associated with amusement, entertainment, pleasure, and mirth (that is hedonic happiness, and it’s the kind that capitalism is best at providing). This suggests our hearts would kindly appreciate it if you would please put down your phone and go look at the stars, feel some awe, and do something that benefits your community, your loved ones, and your planet.  Heartbreak can teach us a lot.