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Johann Hari: Depression’s Not (Just) In Your Head — Transcript

Read the transcript of Caitlin’s interview with author Johann Hari, turning a searching eye on the social, political, and personal reasons we’re so sad.
by Ines Bläsius | Oct 3 2019

Caitlin Schiller: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Caitlin Schiller.

Ben Schuman-Stoler: And I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.

Caitlin: And today, we’re going to talk about depression. But we’re going to talk about depression from a perspective that you’ve probably never heard before or at least one that still feels relatively fresh. Our guest today wrote this book. It’s called Lost Connections. It’s about the environmental, societal, and cultural causes of depression. And how to get ourselves reconnected to all the stuff that matters. His name is Johann Hari. You may have heard of him before—he also wrote a book called Chasing the Scream.

Ben: About drug use.

Caitlin: About drug use, exactly.

Ben: Yeah. He is a he’s one of these people with a TED Talk that has like 35 million views.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: Right. So, why did you want to have them on the show?

Caitlin: Actually it traces back to season two of Simplify, when we talked to Christopher Ryan, the Sex At Dawn guy. He mentioned in his book recommendation section that he had recently read an advance copy of this book and was super excited about it.

And I think the way that he’d framed it was, “all the places that depression comes from outside of our own brains” and I was fascinated by it. So as soon as I saw that it was available, I gave it a read and it took a little while, but we got Hari on the show.

Ben: Do you read all the books that authors recommend?

Caitlin: Not all of them, but some of them I definitely do, yeah.

Ben: Cool. So let’s get to the interview then and I guess beforehand is there anything people should really keep an eye out for in particular?

Caitlin: Well personally, I love the part where he talks about making meaning in modern society and how we do that. So, listen for that, but I think that we should just dive into it.

I can’t wait to share this one.

Ben: Okay. So here’s Johann Hari with Caitlin Schiller and stick around after don’t forget because we have The Bookend as ever, where we make a reading list inspired by what we learn in this episode. So stick around.

Caitlin: All right, cool. See you then.

Caitlin interviews Johann Hari

Caitlin: Johann thanks so much for joining me today. To get us started, could you please introduce yourself the way that you like to be introduced?

Johann: Well, I’m British. So I’ve been given this way that I’m meant to introduce myself by my American publishers, which I find almost physically painful. So they say that I’m meant to say: I’m Johann Hari, the author of two New York Times bestselling books, Chasing the Scream which is about addiction, and Lost Connections, which is about depression.

Caitlin: Lost Connections begins with this amazing vignette. You’re traveling, you’re in Vietnam, and you are incredibly, deathly even, ill and you’re brought to the hospital where the doctor there tells you that you need your nausea because it’s a message. So, over the course of writing this book and throughout the places that you traveled, what did you learn about nausea, this nausea, and really, pain in general? The physical and emotional pain that we go through.

Johann: The book is really the journey of how I came to these understandings. I ended up going on this enormous journey for this book. I went over 40,000 miles. I interviewed the leading experts in the world about what causes depression and anxiety and, crucially, what solves them.

But I also wanted to sit with people who just have really different perspectives. From an Amish village in Indiana because the Amish have very low levels of depression, to a city in Brazil that banned advertising to see if that would help, to a lab in Baltimore where they were giving people psychedelics to see if that would help them and I learned lots of things, but the heart of what I learned is, there’s scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety.

Two of them are indeed in our biology. Your genes can make you more sensitive to these problems, although they don’t write your destiny, and there are real brain changes that happen when you become depressed that make it harder to get out, but most of the causes of depression and anxiety are not in our biology. They’re factors in the way we live and once you understand them, that opens up a very different set of solutions to this problem—ones that I saw being tried all over the world and ones that for which there’s growing scientific evidence. They work really well and I think one thing that united a lot, not all, but a lot of the causes of depression and anxiety that I learned about, which is, everyone listening to your podcast knows they have natural physical needs.

You need food. You need water. You need shelter. You need clean air. If I took those things away from you, you’d be, you know, screwed really quickly, but there’s equally strong evidence that all human beings have natural psychological needs. You need to feel you belong, you need to feel your life has meaning and purpose, you need to feel that people see you and value you, you need to have meaningful work, you need to have a future that makes sense. And this culture we’ve built is good at lots of things. I’m glad to be alive today. But we’ve been getting less and less good at meeting these deep, underlying psychological needs and it’s not the only thing that’s going on. But it’s one of the key reasons why this crisis is getting worse and worse and why the most effective solutions are ones that actually deal with that problem.

Caitlin: So, you identified nine different causes of depression and anxiety. Of course, you explore all nine of them in your book and while I would love to talk about all of them, we might then be here for the next nine years. So today, I thought that we could hone in on just a few of them. And one of those causes, a really important one, is this disconnection from meaningful work. Could you speak about that a bit?

Johann: I noticed that lots of the people I know who are depressed and anxious, that depression and anxiety focuses around their work. So I started to think okay, well, maybe the people I know are unusual. Let’s look this up. So I looked at the best research, actually, the most detailed research about how people feel about their work was done by the opinion poll company, Gallup, a massive study.

What they found is 13% of us, one-three percent, like our jobs most of the time. Sixty-three percent of what they called “sleep working”, you don’t like it, you don’t hate it, you just kind of tolerate it. And 24% of people hate and fear their jobs. I was quite struck by that. That means that 87% of people don’t like the thing they’re doing most of the time. And this thing that we don’t like doing, is spreading over more and more of our of our day, right?

The average person answers their first work email a 7:43 a.m. and leaves work at 7:15 p.m. So I start to ask, well, could this be having some effect on our mental health? So I started looking at all the best evidence. I discovered that in the 1970’s an incredible Australian social scientist called Professor Michael Marmot had made a real breakthrough on this. So I went to go and see him to interview him and he explained to me the biggest factor that causes depression and anxiety at work, not the only one, is if you go to work tomorrow and you have low or no control over your work, you are much more likely to become depressed and anxious.

This is a big debate about why. I think it relates to what we were talking about earlier, that people have needs, right, you need to feel your life is meaningful. And if you’re controlled all the time, you can’t construct meaning out of your work. But when I learned all this, I actually misunderstood what Professor Marmot and this wider evidence was saying. So I thought it was saying at first, okay, you’ve got this elite 13% of people at the top who gets out of work, they control their nice lives, but you know, there’s a lot of jobs that’ve got to be done that aren’t so nice and you know, I thought about my family. My grandmother’s job was to clean toilets. My dad’s job was to be a bus driver. My brother’s an Uber driver. I started saying, well hang on, are you just saying that all these people are condemned to be miserable? But Professor Marmot explained to me, it’s not the work that makes you depressed, it’s not having control of your work.

Caitlin: Right. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. But still, we need jobs and we can’t always control what goes on in our day-to-day. What might we be doing differently?

Johann: So I went to Baltimore to interview a woman called Meredith Keough. Meredith worked in an office job and she used to go to bed every Sunday night just sick with anxiety.

If she would tell you it wasn’t the worst office job in the world. She wasn’t being bullied, she wasn’t being harassed, but she was getting really anxious about it. It was really monotonous. She couldn’t bear the thought this was going to be the next 40 years of her life. So one day with her husband, Josh, Meredith did this quite bold thing. Josh had worked in bike stores in Baltimore since he was a teenager and he said to his colleagues, you know, what does our boss actually do? They quite liked their boss. He wasn’t a terrible person, but they were like, we seem to fix all the bikes and he seems to make all the money.

So one day Josh with his colleagues and Meredith quit their jobs and they decided to set up a bike store of their own that worked on a different principle. So the place they’d worked before and the place Meredith had worked were corporations, right? Most people listening to this will work in a corporation, it’s a very recent human invention.

You know how it works. You got the boss at the top who we all have to obey, he’s like the commander of the army or a dictator. Sometimes he’s a nice dictator, sometimes he’s Kim Jong-Un, you never know. And if you don’t obey the dictator in the end, you’re out, right? And they decided they were going to set up a bike store that worked on an older American idea. The store they set up which is called Baltimore Bicycle Works is a democratic cooperative.

They don’t have a boss. They run the business together. They take decisions about the business together. They have a meeting like once every three weeks. They share out the profits. They share out the good tasks and the crappy tasks. So, no one gets stuck with the crappy tasks. And one of the things that was so striking to me spending time with them in Baltimore Bicycle Works was how many of them talked about how they’d felt really depressed and anxious in their previous way of working, but were not depressed and anxious now. And it’s important to say and this is totally aligned with Professor Marmots findings, right? It’s not like they quit their jobs fixing bikes and went off to become Beyoncé’s backing singers, right?

They fixed bikes before, they fix bikes now, what’s the difference? Now they’ve got control over their work. How many people do you know who are depressed and anxious who would feel quite differently if they knew that tomorrow morning they were going into a workplace where the boss was accountable to them, where they controlled their environment with their colleagues, where something was really bothering them they could bring it up and share it out with their colleagues, if other people agree. That’s a very different way of working and spending most of our waking lives, than most of us have at the moment and I think the evidence shows quite clearly, that would be a really strong antidepressant.

There is no reason why we should be spending our lives, most of our waking lives, in institutions that make us feel miserable, controlled, and humiliated. We don’t have to do that. Now that’s a big change. In Lost Connections I go through smaller changes we can make in our lives but we’ve all lived through big changes, right?

I’m gay. I didn’t even hear the concept of gay marriage till I was 21. My—women like you don’t need me to mansplain this to them—but my grandmothers weren’t allowed to have bank accounts when they got married, right? That’s not that long ago. We’re all the beneficiaries of big civilizing changes and giving people back control over their work is a really important civilizing change that we need to do. And it’s actually even more productive, right? There’s, it’s not even good for the economy. There’s a study at Cornell University that found more democratic businesses grow on average four times faster than non-democratic businesses.

Caitlin: Why do you think that’s so?

Johann: Because people are more committed to the job, right?

They’re not deadening themselves to be there. That difference where if what you’re doing hour-by-hour has meaning to you and you can invest it with meaning and you can craft it and you can feel you’re doing something good and worthwhile, is so different to if you’re being controlled, humiliated, deadened. You know, there was an opinion poll done, here in Britain, that just phoned people up, didn’t tell them what this question meant, just said “is your job bullshit?” And I think something like 50 percent of people said, yes. Just straight out, right?

Think about what that means, right? When we tell people their depression is just the result of their biology. Now I’ll stress again, there’s real biological factors to be sure and I talked about them in detail in the book. But if you tell someone whose work is humiliating, controlling, and you ignore the scientific evidence that that causes depression and anxiety for many people and you say this is just a fault in your brain, I think that does several things. I think it actually deepens their humiliation, right? It makes it harder for them to understand. There’s a tremendous relief in being told your pain makes sense, right? Now a lot of people feel relief when they told depression is just a problem with your brain because you’re being told, oh, okay, you know, I’ve got a story now, it’s not just that I’m weak. But actually, that’s a very limited story. It’s not untrue for some people. But it’s a small part of a much bigger, bigger problem. And once people understand their problems we can begin to solve them together. But if we don’t have an accurate map of where we are, we can’t find our way out of the territory, right?


Caitlin: Hey! Did you know that Johann Hari has written other books, too? Well, he has and you can find them on Blinkist. What’s Blinkist, you ask? Well Blinkist is an app that takes the key ideas from today’s bestselling nonfiction books and transforms them into a super powerful condensed pack of audio or text that take just about 15 minutes to finish. So you can learn a whole world of new things without ever sacrificing time to connect with the people and things that matter to you.

Give it a try by going to, finding the try Blinkist link up in the right-hand corner, and type in the voucher code “connect“. That’s C-O-N-N-E-C-T, and you’ll get 14 days of Blinkist free. Okay, now back to my conversation with Johann Hari.

Interview Contd.

Caitlin: As we’ve been speaking, I’ve heard the word ‘meaning’ keep popping up and it’s very present in the book, too. Meaning is basically just having a sense of purpose behind what we’re doing or the basic reason that we feel we exist. We have more tools for making meaning than ever before, I think, we can get on the Internet and find information, we can listen to podcasts, we can find experts to talk with, we can do our own research pretty quickly and easily. So, why does it seem that we’re having an incredibly difficult time understanding what meaning is and how we can access it for ourselves, now?

Johann: We can, but, I think it’s a really important question, and one of the most challenging causes of depression and anxiety that I learned about, was exactly what you’re talking about.

So everyone knows junk food has taken over our diets and made us physically sick, right? I don’t say this with any sense of superiority. I’m literally going to McDonald’s when this interview finishes, but there’s equally strong evidence that a kind of junk values have taken over our minds and made us mentally sick.

So, for thousands of years, philosophers have said, if you think life is about money and status and how you look to other people, you’re going to feel like crap, right? That’s not an exact quote from Confucius. But that is the gist of what he said, right, but weirdly nobody had ever scientifically investigated this, until an incredible man I got to know called Professor Tim Kasser who is at Knox College in Illinois. And Professor Kasser showed a few really important things. So, all human beings, everyone you’ve ever met, is a mixture of two kinds of motive. So, imagine if you play the piano in the morning because you love it and it gives you joy and that’s something you just want to do.

That’s what’s called an intrinsic reason to play the piano, right? You’re not doing it to get something out of it you’re doing it because that moment gives you a sense of satisfaction and meaning. Good, that’s called an intrinsic motive to do something and that people have different things. For me it’s writing, for some people it might be running, whatever. Okay, now imagine you play the piano not because you love it, but, because your parents are really pressuring you to be a piano maestro. That’s their dream of you. Or, work in a dive bar that you can’t stand to pay the rent. Or to post the clips on Instagram so you look good. Those would be what’s called an extrinsic reason to play the piano. You’re not doing it because that experience gives you joy, you’re doing it to get something out of it further down the line, right? Some external thing. Now, obviously, we’re all the mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motives. You have to be to be a human being.

But Professor Kasser showed two really interesting things. The first is, as a society, we have become much more driven by extrinsic values, by showing off, by status, by how we look to other people in this shallow, external way. He also showed, the more your life is like that, the more likely you are to become depressed and anxious by quite a significant amount. And I think that, I mean there’s a big debate about why that is, but, you know, just like junk food appeals to the part of us that needs nutrition, but actually poisons us, these junk values, they appeal to the part of us that is looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. But actually they direct us towards things that do not make us happy. Everyone listening to your podcast knows they’re not going to lie on their deathbed and think about, you know, all the likes they got on Instagram, and all the shoes they bought, right? That’s when you’re not gonna think about that. You’re going to think about moments of meaning and love and connection.

But as Professor Kasser put it to me, we live in a machine that’s designed to get us to neglect what is important about life. We are constantly being told the solution to our problems is to buy, shop, spend. This is so deep in us, I mean, more 18-month old children in the United States know what the McDonalds ‘M’ means, than know their own last name. It’s so deep in our culture, this idea that the solution to our problems is to spend.

But Professor Kasser showed a really hopeful thing as well, which is with a wonderful guy I interviewed who’s in Minneapolis called Nathan Dungan. They did this experiment where they just got people to meet once every couple of weeks and talk about what they actually thought was meaningful in life. And just the, we don’t really have these conversations, right? If you’re gonna set aside, you know, the treadmill of working hard to buy a load of crap you don’t need, to display on Instagram to make people you hardly ever see jealous. What are moments you’ve actually found meaningful and satisfying in your life? How can we build more of that into our lives, and less of this bullshit? And just doing that, just meeting once every couple of weeks for a sustained period, led to a really significant shift in people’s values.

So we’ve been poisoned with this, this, this bullshit, but actually we can de-program ourselves, right? But you know, I think you asked the really important question, which is how did we get diverted away from this? You know, we live in a machinery that is built upon, you know, and when you read how advertising people communicate with each other they’re completely candid about it.
They call it ‘invented wants’. Advertising is the ultimate frenemy, right? It says “oh babe, I think you’re great. I love you. If only you didn’t smell so much. If only you weren’t so hairy. I mean, I think you’re great. I think you’re really great. I mean, if only you didn’t look quite like that.” You know, you can see how that that constant bombardment is there and advertising is just the kind of tip of the spear for this wider system that’s built around, we have to keep shopping to keep the system going, right? But we can break from that system. That’s not an inevitable system, right? That’s, again, a very recent, very recent human invention. We can change these things if we want to, and the evidence shows very clearly if we do, it will reduce depression and anxiety.

Caitlin: Oh, I like the idea of advertising as the ultimate frenemy. Advertising just creates this belief that you’re almost good enough. It’s so toxic. Um, I think another interrelated toxic idea is this highly individualistic idea that nobody can help you, except for you. You’ve got to look out for yourself and nobody else is going to be there to help you.

Johann: This individualism is so deep in our culture. You’re so right.

Caitlin: Right, and it’s so damaging. I wonder, how do we begin to get away from that mindset? What did you see as you were doing the research for Lost Connections that gave you hope?

Johann: You know, it’s really moving to me that you’re asking me this question from Berlin because, you know, obviously I was taught a lot for my book by scientists and experts. But, actually, the people who taught me the most about how to get out of depression were a group of people who are not scientists and doctors at all, and they’re in Berlin. They’re in a place called Kotti. So if it’s okay, I’ll just tell you, the people, the story of what happened there. So, in the summer of 2011, a woman called, a Turkish-German woman, called Nuriye Cengiz climbed out of her wheelchair and she put a sign in her window.

She lives on the ground floor of a big anonymous housing project in Berlin. And the sign said something like, I got a notice saying I’m going to be evicted from my apartment next Thursday. So on Wednesday night, I’m going to kill myself. Now, this housing project in Kotti was you know, like a housing project pretty much anywhere in the world—big, anonymous housing project. No one really knows anyone. It’s in an area that had been a very poor area for a long time. So there were basically only three groups of people who’d lived in this housing project for a long time. There were recent muslim immigrants like this woman Nuriye, there were punk squatters and there were gay men.

And as you can imagine, these three groups did not get along, and no one really knew anyone anyway. But people started walking past Nuriye’s window, and they saw the sign. And they knocked on her door and they said ‘do you need any help?’ And Nuriye said ‘screw you, I don’t want any help’ she shut the door in their face. And loads of people were being evicted from this housing project because rents are going up so much across the city, so they were pissed off about their own rents going up. And standing outside her apartment, one of them had an idea. There’s a big thoroughfare that goes through Kotti, and one of them had this idea. They said, you know, if we just blocked the road on a Saturday and you know, we protest, there will probably be a bit of pressure they’ll probably let Nuriye stay in her in her apartment, there might even be some pressure for us to, you know, to keep rents down for all of us, right? So, the Saturday comes, they block the road, Nuriye is like, well, I’m going to kill myself anyway, I might as well let them push me into the middle of the road. So, she goes and she sits there and the media came. And there’s a little bit of a news story in Berlin that day, a bit of a fuss, and Nuriye’s interviewed, and these other residents are interviewed. Then it gets to the end of the day and the police say, ‘okay, you’ve had your fun. Take it down.’ But people who live there are like, ‘well, hang on a minute. You haven’t told Nuriye she gets to stay. Actually, we want a rent freeze for entire housing project. When we’ve got that, then we’ll take this down.’ But of course they knew, the minute they left the barricade, the police would just rip it down anyway.

So, one of my favorite people at Kotti, a woman called Tanja Gartner, she’s one of the punk squatters. Tanja wears tiny little mini skirts, even in Berlin winter. She’s quite hard core. And she had a klaxon, you know, those things that make loud noises at soccer matches. She said ‘okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna drop a timetable to man this barricade. We’re going to do it 24 hours a day, until we get what we want. If the police come to take it down before they’ve given in to our demands, let off this klaxon and we’ll all come down from our apartments and stop them’.

Directly opposite where the protest is, there’s a gay club called Südblock. So when they’d open, they opened this club about a year before the protests began. And as you can imagine, this is an area with a lot of recent Muslim immigrants. There was some protests. In fact, some people had smashed the windows, people had been really quite pissed off.

When the protests began, this gay club started giving all their furniture to the barricade. They started helping out. And after the protest had been going on for a few months, they said, ‘you know, you guys should have your meetings, strategy meetings and everything, in our club. We’ll give you free drinks. We’ll give you free food’ and even the kind of liberals at Kotti were like ‘look, we’re not going to get these very religious Muslims to come and have meetings underneath posters for things so obscene I cannot describe them on your podcast, right? It did start happening. As one of the Turkish German women there, Nariman said to me, ‘we all realized we had to take these small steps to understand each other’. After the protests had been going on for a year, one day a guy turned up at the protest called Tuncai. And Tuncai when you meet him, he was in his early 50s at the time. Tuncai clearly has some kind of cognitive difficulties. He’d been living homeless, but he had this this incredible energy about him. It was really kind. People really liked him. And after he’d been hanging around for about a week, by this time the actual barricade they’d built, it was a permanent structure with a roof and a door and everything. They said to him, you know, we don’t want you to be homeless.

You should come and live here. And Tuncai did start living there, and he became a much-loved part of the Kotti protest. And after he’d been there for nine months, one day the police came to inspect, they would do this every now and then. And Tuncai doesn’t like it when people argue. He thought the police were arguing.

So, he went to try to hug one of the police officers, but the police officer thought he was being attacked. So they arrested Tuncai. That was when it was discovered, Tuncai had been shut away in a psychiatric hospital, often literally in a padded cell for 20 years. He’d escaped one day. He lived on the streets for a few months and then he found his way to Kotti. So, the police took him back to the psychiatric hospital right at the other side of Berlin. At which point, the entire Kotti protest turned into a kind of Free Tuncai movement, right? They descended on the psychiatric hospital at the other side of Berlin and I remember the psychiatrist being, he told, the psychiatrist would be like, ‘what is this? They’ve got this person they’ve had shut away for 20 years, and then they’ve got these women in hijabs, these very camp gay men and these punks, demanding that they release him. But Ulli Hartman, one of the protesters, said to them, ‘yeah, but you don’t love him. We love him. He doesn’t belong with you, he belongs with us.’

Many things happened at Kotti. They got Tuncai back. He lives there still. They got a rent freeze for their entire housing project. They then launched a referendum initiative to keep rents down across Berlin. They’ve got the largest number of written signatures in the history of the city of Berlin, but the last time I saw Nuriye, she said to me, ‘you know, I’m really glad I got to stay in my apartment. That’s great. I gained so much more than that. I was surrounded by these incredible people all along. And I would never have known’. And it was so clear to me in Kotti, exactly what you’re asking about, that question about, think about how distressed these people were when they were isolated individuals, right?

Nuriye was about to kill herself. Tuncai was shut away in a padded cell. Loads of these people were depressed and anxious. They didn’t need in the main to be drugged. They needed to be together. They needed to have a sense of meaning and purpose and that they were seen and valued. And these problems that seemed and were insoluble when they were alone, were solvable when they were together.

I remember one of the other, one of the Turkish-German women there, Neriman Menker saying to me, you know, when I grew up in in Turkey, I grew up in a village, and I called my whole village ‘home’ and then I came to live in the western world, and I learned that here what you’re meant to call home is just your four walls.

And then this whole protest began and I started calling all these people and this whole place my home. And she said she realized in this culture, in a very real sense we are homeless. The Bosnian writer Alexander Heyman said ‘home is where people notice when you’re not there’ and when Tuncai was carried away, I remember thinking, how many of us, if we were carried away, would have hundreds of people descending saying, no, we look after this person. You don’t do that, we do that. This hunger for reconnection, for rebuilding a sense of home, is just beneath the surface. Everywhere. We are depressed because we have lost connections to the deepest and most profound things that human beings need and that’s not a sign that we’re crazy. The Bengali philosopher, Krishnamurti, said ‘it’s no sign of good health to be well-adjusted to a sick society’. We’ve created this culture that is not meeting our deeper needs. And as individuals, we’re not crazy for feeling the pain of that. We need to feel the pain of that because the pain will tell us how to solve the problem.

The Bookend

Ben: Welcome to The Bookend where we end with books. Okay. Is there anything you want to, you want to say right away?

Caitlin: Is there anything that you want to say right away? I’m kidding.

Ben: No, I want to ask you, I want to ask you, like, your impressions. I mean, it’s a pretty serious topic.

Caitlin: It was a pretty serious topic. I don’t think that the talk felt super heavy but it was a pretty serious topic.

Ben: I mean, what’s the one thing you remember from the interview?

Caitlin: I remember a few things, but I think that the thing to take away from this is that the very, the very real possibility the high, high, high likelihood that depression is not just a matter of your brain being sick. It isn’t contained completely within you and your physiology. You have needs for connection.

And we live in a machine that’s designed to get us to neglect what is important about life. We’ve taken on, just as individual people, so much responsibility for everything that’s wrong with the world and everything that’s wrong with us. But we are also, to a great extent, creations of our environment and we owe it to ourselves to take a look at what’s going on, environmentally.

I don’t mean, you know sun and sea and sand, although, that, too. I mean who’s in our circle of friends? Who do we talk to about our intimate fears? Who rubs our back when we’re feeling bad and says hey are you okay? We need to look at what’s going on environmentally that has an impact on our connectedness and how we’re feeling.

Ben: It’s like not only tree-hugging but employee hugging.

Caitlin: Yes.

Ben: Colleague hugging.

Caitlin: Yeah, we started the day with a hug today because I hadn’t seen you in a while.

Ben: We did it, it’s true.

Caitlin: It was nice.

Ben: Do you want to recommend some books?

Caitlin: Yeah, I do. Do you, I’ve talked a lot. Do you want to go first or?

Ben: Sure. I mean I wanted to connect it a little bit to Johann Hari’s first book, Chasing the Scream, which is about drug addiction and sort of looks a little bit deeper into drug addiction in the same way. It’s not that depression is the brain being sick. It’s not that depression, it’s not that addiction is, people are evil. Rather, that people need connection. Yeah, so he has this great quote.

“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, its connection” and what you should tell to somebody who’s addicted, is you’re not alone. We love you. I love you. You know I’m here. So I had to think of, this connects to Lost Connections, the book you two were talking about, in that you spoke a lot about individualism and and lack of control and feeling alone and feeling sort of, so what I wanted to recommend to people is the book Altruism by Matthieu Ricard. Sorry for the bad French. Really cool guy. He’s a PhD geneticist, philosopher, and Buddhist monk.

Caitlin: Wow. That’s a lot of cool titles.

Ben: Yeah. He’s a, he’s cool. And basically, his point is, humans are not inherently selfish, in the same way that Hari is saying humans inherently need connection.
They’re not exactly the same thing. I don’t want to make that point, but I can definitely recommend the book Altruism. And I hope that it will lead to people giving more hugs. What, what do you do you have two books?

Caitlin: I do have two books. The first one, kind of predictable, but I think dovetails with this nicely is Sex at Dawn. As I mentioned before, I learned about Lost Connections from having a talk with Christopher Ryan, who’s the author of Sex at Dawn.

So this was, at least at it’s time a pretty controversial book that challenges everything that we think we know about sex and monogamy and marriage and family. Sex at Dawn basically posits that the idealization of monogamy and western societies is pretty incompatible with human nature. And the book makes a pretty compelling case for how we are promiscuous by nature, by exploring the history and the evolution of human sexuality with a focus on primate ancestors- bonobos. Remember?

Ben: I remember preparing for that Simplify episode, by trying to like, memorize the exact difference between bonobos and chimps. I don’t know if I could tell you right now.

Caitlin: I think a really important one is that bonobos have matriarchal societies and that’s interesting. There’s less aggression, and everybody gets laid more. So, cool.

It’s a really interesting book. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in the idea of how the idea of sex and romance, relationships, love, biological needs for sex, I guess, have evolved throughout the years. So, give it a look. And you can also listen to the Simplify episode if you want, it’s from Season Two with Christopher Ryan.

Ben: Yeah, you have another book recommendation? I have one more. This will be a quicker one. This book is really kind of fascinating. It’s called It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn, who is a family trauma researcher, and it looks at how traumas your parents, your grandparents and even your great-grandparents may have had, have their own kind of expression in your life and shape your behavior. So what I thought was really fascinating is that even if the person who suffered the original trauma has died, or the stories aren’t talked about any more, memory and feelings can live on in everything from gene expression to how we talk, which shapes our life experience.

I’m a big fan of this book.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Ben: It Didn’t Start with You.

Caitlin: Exactly, thanks.

Ben: This episode of Simplify was produced by Caitlin Schiller, Ben Schuman-Stoler, and Florian Tippe.

Caitlin: If you enjoyed this episode of Simplify, please consider rating it and leaving us a little review in Apple Podcasts. It helps other people find us, and it just kind of makes our day.

So if you could do that, that would be super sweet. Also, wanted to let you know that Simplify was brought to you by Blinkist which condenses the key insights of the world’s best nonfiction books into 15- or 20-minute listens or reads that you can enjoy on your mobile phone or the web, you can do that, too.

If you’d like to try Blinkist out, you could read the key insights or hear the key insights to Hari’s books or any of the books that we recommended today, by going to, tapping in the Try Blinkist area up at the top right and put in the discount code. What was it Ben?

Ben: connect

Caitlin: connect. Yeah, so go to You’ll see a thing that’s really obvious, that says try Blinkist, just tap on it and type “connect” and away you go. Seven days, free Blinkist.

Ben: Yeah, and if you want to tell us about what you thought about this interview, we would love that. We would love to talk about it.

Caitlin’s always sending emails back and forth with listeners. Me too, sometimes. If you want to recommend us a book, anything else, we’re on Twitter Caitlin is @CaitlinSchiller and I’m @bsto or just find us at the email [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

Caitlin: Cool. So then that’s it. We will be back with more Simplify, next week.

Ben: Alright, checkin’ out.

Caitlin: Checkin’ out.

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