Ah, the eternal warfare between the things I want to do and the things I have to do. I'm not sure what being an adult encompasses, but I know this is a big part of it. I have to clean up the apartment, but I want to stay in bed. I have to get out of bed and start my day, but I want to write this first. I have to write this, but I want to play video games.
It's a cold and cloudy Sunday morning in the south of Brazil. It does get chilly in the winter here — which is something that baffles most north-hemisphere inhabitants of this planet: "Really? Brazil? Cold?" Well, it's about forty degrees Fahrenheit outside, which means it is about the same inside because we don't have any heating in this country. I have to get out of here.
I'll be thirty-two in a couple of days.
I've been dealing with things I have to do versus things I want to do since my teens. It's a major source of anxiety, knowing you have things to do but being unable to do them. I feel unproductive, useless. My therapist — for the time I actually could afford to see him — asked me once: but what is useful? Useful for whom? I don't know.
The fact is that, if you dig deep enough, nothing is useful. Ever. Our feeble existence in this world will make no difference. We have to protect the environment and save the world, but if we, instead, destroy the environment — our only home — the Earth will keep on. It doesn't care that there are almost eight billion humans living their crazy lives, trying to do useful stuff — whatever the hell that means. Earth doesn't give a shit. It's, objectively, just a rock. The universe is just a vast void sprinkled with cosmic particles and we're here in one of these specks of dust writing about usefulness on cold mornings, as if any of this had any meaning.
Nature doesn't have meaning, but it does have purpose. And purpose is subjective. This is also a big part of being an adult. What is my purpose? Some people want to have a deep and meaningful relationship with families and friends, some people want to accomplish great things in their careers, some people want to touch and help others, and some people just want to have a good time. Most people want all of the above. Purpose is whatever makes you happy, couldn't be simpler. Except that humans like to make things complicated.
Nature's purpose is to exist and to continue existing. Animals want to survive because they are descendants of animals that wanted to survive. The animals that wanted to survive, did, and passed the gene of wanting to survive on and on. This is why everything that's alive in this rock wants to survive. But as time passed, things got complex. Humans have a better chance of surviving if we have one another, and the individuals who liked doing useful stuff for one another had more chances of surviving, hence, passing the genes of liking-to-do-useful-stuff down the line.
After a few thousand years of this, things got even more complex, and what is useful for me is not useful for you. There's no consensus on what's useful but, whatever it is, being useful makes us happy. Nature rewards us with dopamine every time we do something our genes learned is useful, through the trial-and-error process of evolution. So, by definition, whatever makes us happy is useful. Whatever makes me happy is my purpose, and whatever makes you happy is your purpose. Being happy is the most useful thing we can do, by definition.
But then, should I play video games or should I write this? Should I do what I have to do or what I want to do? What is even the purpose of this thing I'm writing? Making me happy? I don't know. What I do know — and this is something I wish I knew back in my teens because it would have saved me from a lot of anxiety — is that I don't have to do anything. As I mentioned before, there's no meaning to any of this, there's just purpose. And the purpose is to be happy.
We want things because they make us happy, they satiate us. If I'm hungry — because my body needs nutrients — I suddenly want to eat. If I'm lonely — because my mind needs the sense of belonging — I suddenly want to do a social activity. And then there is more complex stuff. I'm not much of a social person, but maybe writing this counts as a social activity? Maybe it will trigger the tribal parts of my brain that love to share our experience in this indifferent rock.
The point is I don't have to eat, I could just starve. I don't have to write, I could just talk to someone — I do have a wife, I could talk to her. But I don't have to do anything, I just want to do many things, on different levels, and all of them have to do with making me happy. Sometimes, I don't want to make myself happy, but I want to make others happy. Like when we do something nice to someone we love. But then again, that makes us happy, because we like to see our loved ones happy.
After thirty-two years in this rock, my conclusion is that there's no actual difference between what I want to do and what I have to do. All we need is that sweet sweet dopamine, the "feel-good" hormone. We are pleasure-seekers. We seek pleasures of many different shapes and sizes, and some are just not that obvious. But we don't have to do anything, we just want in different levels.
So, here's the thing, I'm moving to Canada.
I got a job offer a month ago and I have to gather a bunch of documents to get the visa done, and I have to sell my stuff in Brazil, and I have to step outside my comfort zone and into this incredible new life experience. Well, apparently I don't have to gather those documents, I want to. And I'm not sure why I want to leave Brazil. I don't want to leave my family behind, my friends, the culture I knew my entire life and that I belong to. But this is something I have to do. It could be that I want to live in a place that's cold but that has heating. It could be that I want to be able to look at the news every once in a while without having an anxiety attack about the crime rate or corruption. It could be that I don't want to pay so many taxes and have barely anything in return. It could be that I want my work to earn me money that I can actually pay for stuff with — like a therapist if I ever need to.
I don't have to leave my country, but I have to. Because I want to.
But first, I have to get out of bed and clean the apartment. Still, I had to write this first. And I'm happy I did it.