By: Suzana Rabello de Souza
illustrator : Hilal Ashour
Did you make plans to go out Friday night but are wondering if maybe you should go to the opening of that new place downtown? Do you check your phone even while driving because maybe something really cool is going on among your friends and you want
to make sure you’re part of it? Do you really love your girlfriend or boyfriend but keep wondering if there aren’t better options in the market?
If you answered “yes” to these and many others questions that give you this feeling that you might be missing out on something by committing to something else, you might be one of the many people in our age suffering from FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.
While FOMO is not a new concept, it is one that became stronger, more obvious and more constant in the age of 24/7 connectivity. There is no doubt previous generations had some degree of FOMO as well, wondering if those friends they haven’t heard from since college, or since they moved to a bigger town, weren’t doing a lot better in life than they were. But with no internet, and especially no social media, these thoughts would be dismissed in minutes. Their attention shifting back to their own lives.
Understanding FOMO better
Picture the scene: you’re in peace with your decision to spend Saturday night at home watching Netflix or having fun with your friends who came over for dinner. Or maybe you and your SO are having a good time chilling at the pub. You’re perfectly happy until you learn about other people doing something else and, immediately, you feel they’re having a better time than you are. Sometimes you don’t even need to see anything, you can’t enjoy whatever you’re doing because you just know there’s something more fun going on somewhere else.
As we’ve heard a thousand times before, life is made of choices. And that is where the problem begins. By choosing something we are, inevitably, letting something else go. However, because we’re constantly connected to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on, we can witness the lives of others who chose what we didn’t… and the neighbor’s grass is always greener. To make things more complicated, we’re bombarded with an amount of daily choices far bigger than the previous generations: shows to watch, stuff to buy, clothes to wear, places to explore, people to meet; giving us that disturbing feeling that we’re not making the most of our lives. And worse, others are.
This constant fear that others are engaging in more gratifying experiences than we are, shaped a generation that can’t make up their minds. It became impossible to fully appreciate the “right here” based on the thought someone else is having more fun “over there”. Although it is no news, internet changed and keeps changing the way we live our lives. It’s not to say all social media posts are bad or fake, but the amount of people trying too hard to flaunt how amazing their lives are has definitely increased. We envy instead of getting inspired
The other day I read a book called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, by Mark Manson. Although I’m not a big fan of overusing foul language to make a point, I agree with the author when he says “happiness is the problem”. We made it a problem. By so blindly seeking happiness, we fail to notice when it’s unfolding right in front of our eyes, while we check our phones to see what all those people – who deep down we don’t even care about – were doing at the moment.
We fail to understand that struggle is part of life and, yes, a ladder to happiness. That the people who are happy, really happy, made choices and didn’t fail in sticking to them, even if it meant they’d have to give up on a few things. When people envy others instead of looking up to them, they sulk instead of improving. It’s easier to complain that we’re not happy, resent those who seem to be – many times secretly wishing for their unhappiness – and then post a picture pretending to be happier. Because looking up to truly inspiring people and committing to become a genuinely better person is too much work. We’d be missing out on so much…
Happiness is, in fact, a simple thing
During my life, I got to know a huge variety of people from many different cultures. Some I took as life examples and some I swore to myself never to be like them. But what is more interesting is that the ones that struck me as happy people were the ones that, well, were simply happy. It sounds like a “duh-state-the-obvious” realization and yet we fail to realize it on daily basis.
These people who came to become dear friends are still all over the world. When I want to know how they’re doing, though, I have to go and ask, because they are not posting their every hiccup, cough or sneeze on social media pretending they are rainbow bubbles. They are people who know how to seize the moment, the friends with them, and the places where they are – without the need to share it online right away, or compare themselves with everyone else. Above all, they are happy with their choices.
Don’t let FOMO stop you from living
I’m not saying we should condemn social media as the evil of our age and to never share anything online anymore. Nor to get too comfortable and never seek improvement. A certain degree of uneasiness, a little discomfort, an itching desire to have it better are good things, if employed reasonably. They are what made humanity come this far. But we should learn to use our resources in our favor and to look up to the right people. The same internet connection we use to lurk and stalk and nourish our sulking dark garden of misfortune can help us be better, happier people.
If someone seems to have more because they are “smarter”, there are lots of websites where we can learn things for free. With genuine university certificates and stuff. Future Learn and edX are good online places to get started. But they demand us to sit down and truly study; unfortunately, knowledge doesn’t simply come with the latest fashionable pair of hipster glasses.
If we’d prefer to travel extensively like some folks who seem to make a living out of it, we have to focus on saving money and understand these people are not staying in fancy hotels nor going to expensive restaurants. Behind the scenes, they’re most likely sleeping in hostels and Airbnbs. Whilst working super hard on their online business or making ends meet by doing manual jobs locally. They connect with real people and take part in local activities because they know how to make the most of their moments.
Instead of online dating through apps which only focus on who is super utterly hot, why not try to find someone who’s a real match? After all, don’t we all like those feelings of excitement, closeness and admiration that only come with the right person? If we keep looking for empty people to fill out our days, we’ll inevitably only feel pathetic in the end.
It’s our choice
FOMO is shaping our generation into a wretched group of empty, shallow people. In the fear of not attending the next big event, not dating all the available hotties, not having the latest tech gadgets, not going to all the cool bars and nightclubs in town, not taking pictures at the gym, coffee shop, sushi bar, hot beach, bank queue, mall toilet, stuck traffic, hospital bed; people are actually missing out on the most important thing: their lives right now.
Realize FOMO is nothing more than an evolved form of the old, simple “fear of commitment”. People were afraid of “What if something better appears?”, but there were only so many options back then. However, in the era of hyper connectivity there are no “what ifs”, something else is taking place right now, and we’re not there. It’s up to us, though, to decide whether those things are indeed better, or if we’re only joining in the fake competition to prove who’s “happier” online.
As the old saying goes, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. Once we take ownership of our choices, we find out our inflicted suffering and fear were the ones actually preventing us from truly appreciating life – our own lives, which we’d be missing out by wishing to have someone else’s.