The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
In recent years, I’ve regularly vouched for the gut as our long-abused secondary brain. Given what most of us grew up learning in school, it can feel like a mammoth shift. Science and philosophy have long revered the brain as seat of consciousness, even the seat of humanity itself. But when it comes down to it, everything is interconnected. Our consciousness extends well beyond the brain. How we feel and who we are encompasses a much more expansive and intricate system than any of us learned in high school biology. At the center of this paradigm revision is something called the vagus nerve.
Vagus…as a word it sounds a little off-putting. If someone called me a vagus, I’d probably be mildly offended. But the literary origins of this word are actually kind of mystical: “vagus” in Latin translates to “wandering.” And I’d struggle to find a more apt definition.
I’ve always believed you could tell a lot about a person based on when they laugh. Or if they laugh at all. Laughter provides a brief but in-depth window into arguably the most enigmatic organ in the body—as well as the idiosyncrasies at work for that individual.
I’ve suggested before that we adults take life way too seriously. Compared to the average child, who belts out around 400 laughs a day, we summon a measly 15-18 per day. Somehow I think we’re missing out with all that seriousness—mentally and maybe even physically.
Particularly when you’re a parent, October can be a transitional month. I remember feeling like we’d just gotten the kids settled in school and suddenly we were knee deep in extracurricular activities, class projects, parent-teacher conferences—and the holidays. On my more exhausted days, I felt like we were navigating a two-month bender of parties and concerts, costumes and events. On the one hand, it was fun to see the kids’ excitement. It made for good memories, but it also exacted an extended toll. When every week is “special,” it’s wearing. These days life is simpler on the family front, but every once in a while I’ll remember those more frenetic patches. It’s easy to be nostalgic on the other side of the dogged years, but I haven’t forgotten the harder truth of parenting. Sometimes it’s a slog through overwhelm, and research reflects that much. But does it need to be as heavy as we often make it?
We like instant gratification. Who doesn’t? You desire a thing, you want it as soon as possible. This is entirely rational. The food looks good, you’re (relatively) hungry, so let’s eat. That gadget would be fun to play with, you’ve got the money (or credit) for it, so let’s buy it. This is why we sign up for and can never relinquish our Amazon Prime same-day shipping, why we demand antibiotics for viral infections, and why we can purchase and collect entire buckets of fried chicken without ever leaving our cars. We don’t like to wait if we don’t have to. And we rarely have to wait. This extends to how we deal with physical pain: my arm hurts, I want this pain to go away right now, so I’ll take a painkiller.
Research published last year revealed that one-quarter of American workers feel it’s increasingly harder to maintain a work-life balance. Among global respondents, that number rose to one-third. According to the survey, parents are among those who struggle the most. Among the difficulties cited by participants, “finding time for me,” “getting enough sleep,” and “managing personal and professional life” were the most commonly mentioned challenges. Even those who manage to leave on time from work may then face an increasing overlap between work and home life, with another survey finding that 20% of participants worked more than 20 hours from home in addition to regular office hours. For all our social and technological advancements, it seems we’re increasingly stuck in an unfortunate cul-de-sac of our own making. Shouldn’t we be beyond this by now? How is it that we can’t seem to innovate, design, reason or hack our way into a better collective work-life balance?
One major downside to having these big prominent heads stuffed with consciousness-spawning brain matter is that they sometimes ache. Nobody likes a headache. You can find fetishists who enjoy pinching, slapping, biting, burning and any matter of objectively painful stimuli. But there aren’t “headache fetishists.” No one’s chugging a 32 ounce Slurpee in search of brain freeze, or getting drunk for the hangover.
The difficult thing about headaches is figuring out why they’re occurring. Pain in other areas is different. You can look at your hand if it’s hurting and figure out why. You can see the cut on your knee and know what’s going on. But you are your head, and the headache is inside. Your consciousness sits behind your eyes observing reality and directing your role in it. It’s all a big mystery. Or so it feels.