Opinion: the joy of missing out is about being satisfied with where you are and not comparing your life to others

A few months back, I was relaxing in my living room on a Friday evening after a very hectic week. I was watching my favourite movie and thoroughly enjoying myself. My smartphone buzzed and I grabbed it. I saw a Facebook notification that my friend Tina had posted a new picture showing her and some other friends having a great time at river rafting. I was very happy a few minutes ago, but then struck by the fear that I was missing out. I started wondering why I was not there with them and why did they not tell me about it.

My reaction to the picture was 'oh my God, I am missing on so much fun.' Fun? But I have never enjoyed river rafting. After much introspection, I realised that it was not worth it to habe so much anxiety when I was enjoying myself before I saw the notification. What could have been a perfect evening was ruined by comparing my happiness with that of my friends.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Beo ar Éigean, Siún, Áine and Sinéad talk about FOMO in a post-lockdown world

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is the sense of anxiety which many people experience when they find that other people have had fun together while they were away from it. We've all heard the proverb 'the grass is always greener on the other side' which conveys the idea that other people's situations always seem better than one's own.

Philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann found that FOMO is driven by several different reasons, but the biggest problem is social media which often forces people to compare their lives to others who consistently display the most happening, exciting and wonderful aspects of their lives. According to Brinkmann, FOMO can develop a detrimental urge in people to constantly change themselves to match their life experiences with the glowing experiences of others that they see online.

A study by Ella Jood examined the relationship between FOMO and satisfaction with life. The study results suggested that those who practice higher levels of FOMO also reported lower levels of overall life satisfaction. People with low satisfaction with life exhibit higher loneliness and lower self-esteem, which, in turn, increases FOMO and leads to more Facebook addiction. Insufficiencies in mental well-being, therefore, encourage the tendency to seek social connections on the Internet.

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From RTÉ 2fm's Dave Fanning, the man who invented the FOMO acronym Patrick McGinnis about why feelings needed names, how he named them and how social anxiety can affect lives

Many researchers consider the joy of missing out (JOMO) as an antidote to FOMO. JOMO is about being satisfied with where you are without comparing your life to others: you are not missing out on anything as long as you find joy in what you do.

The definition of enjoyment varies from individual to individual. Some people find it joyful to have a drink with friends in a pub, while others find it joyful to do yoga or cook or learn new skills. Every experience enriches us in some way or other. Without succumbing to the pressure of being labelled as geeky, it is perfectly alright to live life our own unique way. Enjoyment may not necessarily be in attending late night parties, but could be hitting the bed early.

Whether we knew it or not, we all embraced JOMO during the pandemic

The best way of turning FOMO into JOMO is to start with a digital detox. Researchers from Google found that the utilitarian nature of the smartphone in modern day lives makes it tricky for users to detach from their phones as it can cause frustration and anxiety. A partial disconnection could be a more realistic compromise, where the essential functionalities are available, but other applications are restricted for a designated period of time. This could limit unimportant distractions, yet preserve the important functions that the user needs, thus encouraging more instances of disconnection from smartphones. A recent study suggested that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.

Whether we knew it or not, we all embraced JOMO during the pandemic. Watching movies on Netflix, cooking and spending time with our family members helped us get over the lockdowns during the pandemic. Another factor which might have helped to keep FOMO at a bay was that we were all at home indoors, and hardly saw any pictures of friends enjoying at beaches and parties. Now, things have changed again. The next time you see a picture of your friends in a pub without you, don't be struck by FOMO and try JOMO instead.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ