When the Body and Mind Disagree on What We Love Most

My friend Sarah wants to chase storms someday. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes—the gamut. She interviews storm chasers on her blog, watches storm-chasing programs, and participates in storm-chasing forums. When she hasn’t had a storm come through her area in a while, she gets antsy.

But storms make Sarah sick.

The changes in barometric pressure that precede dramatic weather events give Sarah headaches. Sometimes they throw her stomach off-kilter.

Similarly, I love boxing. Sparring beats the heavy bag, double-end bag, and mitt work when it comes to training for the sport. After all, none of the other options quite compare to calculating another person’s movements and actions, playing defense and offense at the same time, and learning how to take a hit.

Knowing I’ll spar on a given day gets my adrenaline going well before I get in the ring. Gearing up wakes my body from conscious slumber: I can feel joints and muscles, blood pumping in veins, air moving through windpipe and lungs.

Yet while I look forward to sparring, I dread the aftermath.

Thanks to the adrenaline, I don’t feel pain in the moment. Hours later, I notice the scrapes on my arms from my opponent’s gloves and the bruises on my shoulders, face, and body from her punches. By evening, my neck and back feel a little stiff. The following day, I can sense every muscle I worked and my body revisits every wrong move I made. (And yes, many times wrong moves took me straight into a punch—or many.)

I don’t get it.

I can find articles about people hurting the ones they love. Likewise, I can find information about people who get sexual pleasure from pain.

Yet I can’t find research on the reasons some people enjoy hobbies that cause pain and discomfort—other than interviews with extreme athletes about the thrill of human will triumphing over human body. The mind-over-matter rationale, while valid during an intense activity, doesn’t quite address how a person's body and mind often don’t agree in general—at any given time before and after an event—on what she loves the most.

My mind says, “Boxing! Yes!” My body says, “Boxing? Ouch!” For Sarah, the intellectual thrill of a massive storm system can’t overcome the physical effects of haywire atmospheric changes.

But why? And so I ask you, dear readers:

Why do you think we sometimes love what causes us pain?

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