FOMO: (our) Fear of Missing Out

That latest iPhone that was just released and you need to get? The party your friends are going to, and you’re still missing the invite? The most fashionable style you’re not yet up to? A probable social gathering that might just pop-up, and that you could join if only you’re there, on social media, at the right time? These are all causing our FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) behavior and makes us act just so we don’t feel left out or miss on potential greater things than whatever we currently experience. In this article, we’ll explore the concept into detail, its behaviors, but also what we can do to control and avoid our FOMO.

Checking our phone constantly for yet another time to make sure we’re not missing on an event or invite, or a social connection that is better than the one we’re currently engaged with in real life, all this is a result of FOMO. The fear of missing out on something, or someone better, more exciting, or more interesting that whatever it is that we are currently doing or having. And it can feel like a drug, the urge to check our social media again and again, losing the ability to really enjoy the present moment we’re in.

This is becoming more and more a phenomenon amongst the young generation of adults. With the number of events, gatherings and social connections possible and available out there, it’s easy to be hooked on the desire of not missing out great experiences, fun, discovering a brilliant mind or feeling good about oneself. FOMO, in the end, is defined as …‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. Under this framing of FoMO, nearly three quarters of young adults reported they experienced the phenomenon.

FOMO is more serious than we think

Deep down, this fear comes from anxiety, and checking social media all the time or checking others’ lives displayed there doesn’t really help alleviate this. FOMO is more serious than we think, as it comes from a deep disconnection. Although we live in the most digitally connected world ever, where we have endless opportunities to have what we want and do whatever we feel like doing for leisure or fun.

FOMO comes from deep unhappiness as a result of us not being able to see and appreciate the life we have, the people we’re surrounded by and experience we go through. We’re always under the impression there’s something much better out there, and instead of enjoying the present we’re acting like drug addicts in a rush for news of what’s going on out there…

The same study points out that “…those with low levels of satisfaction of the fundamental needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness tend towards higher levels of fear of missing out as do those with lower levels of general mood and overall life satisfaction.”

Whenever we feel down, or lonely, it’s easy to open Facebook or Instagram, and check what’s happening out there and what our friends are doing. Or start chatting just so we can hide our real state of mind and soul. But the result is not really a happier state, only maybe a postponement and alleviation of our actual state. Social media is not going to help us with this, as everything we see there is mostly a show-off of cherry-picked life moments others have had.

On top of our anxiety and unhappiness, we’ll end up comparing our lives with the perfect ones we see on Facebook, and you can guess how much that helps. It’s easy to follow the path to depression from here… the problem is far more complicated than we think it is.

The below quote quite well points to an extension of this problem. Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz writes in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less: “Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing” is easy advice to give, but hard to follow, because the evidence of how others are doing is pervasive, because most of us seem to care a great deal about status, and finally, because access to some of the most important things in life (for example, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best houses in the best neighborhoods) is granted only to those who do better than their peers. Nonetheless, social comparison seems sufficiently destructive to our sense of well-being that it is worthwhile to remind ourselves to do it less.”

Status has always been prevalent and essential, and now more than ever we’re not limited to real-time events or local communities to appreciate who’s doing better and who’s “cool” to be around. Social media and the digital world are now the place to show that, and to grant us the status we might wish for through attending the “important” events or being around the “good” people, by association. In the end, the result is that we post our carefully drafted bits of life as well and make others jealous. And that’s how we contribute to the FOMO cycle.

Our relationship with technology is still in its infancy

Checking social media all the time and feeling the urge to get to our phone if we’ve been away for a while is a behavior that is not really normal. Technology should complement our life not to push triggers for this sort of damaging behaviors. We’re in the phase where we’re still discovering social media’s novelty, and we learn how to explore it. But, our relationship with it is still in infancy, we’re lacking the level of maturity in which we can use it just to rip the benefits and not hide or succumb into negative feelings, addictions, jealousy, anxiety and even depression.

Attention. Living in the present

Carpe Diem. Look at the bright side. Live in the now. They’re all clichés we all heard probably many times, but nonetheless, they are so right. The younger generation today stopped paying attention in school while walking, driving, and instead, they live connected to the online world through social media. The result is the fear of missing out and a deep level of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

 Learning to pay attention and appreciate what you’re living is the key to switch this around. Learn to smell the roses or relearn this if you’ve forgotten. Listen to the sounds in a park, discover the autumn colors, stay in the rain for a little, notice the other people and children walking by or playing around. Start small, and then look at your life and start paying attention to what you’ve experienced, the people that are there for you, engage in real-life conversations. You might be surprised by the level of energy these interactions can bring you. You will be surprised by the happiness boost all these will give you.

Gratitude

In the end, being present leads to appreciating what you have. The people you have around, friends and family, the opportunities, the life, the surroundings, and the experiences you live. 

Take a moment just to imagine how would your life be without them. Would you be the same? Unexpected things happen, bad things happen, and it only takes a split second sometimes for your life to change completely. To any degree, you’re lucky to have what you have and be where you are now.

I was the most reluctant person to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. But I read and heard so much about it that at some point (yes, also with the right incentives such as “this is such a cool agenda what should I do with it” & a very nice colorful pen) I decided to give it a go. And guess what, it got me to the point that I see life differently. I write before going to sleep, and it really puts me in a great mood. I highly recommend this – jot down 10 people, things, or experiences you are grateful for you had the chance to meet, greet, or go through during that day. Reflect and smile, maybe you’ll feel like texting someone to say thank you. And then tuck into your comfy bed and enjoy the night’s rest.

Science does say gratitude is the king of happiness “…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.”

Therefore, to sum things up, FOMO is already highly present in our lives. For some of us, it’s a drug already, and not being able to check Facebook or Instagram almost all the time gives us the drug rush. Still, this doesn’t bring the happiness we hope for. Instead, it triggers feelings of insecurity, anxiety, jealousy, and even depression. Realizing this is wrong and pushing ourselves to stay in the present moment and be grateful for the real-life and being alive is the recipe of being truly happy.

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