FOMO. What Is It? Do You Have It?
0:05 Read You’re just suffering from the belief something is missing in your life.” ~ Byron Katie
As if we needed another acronym or another malady to appear on the scene, along comes FOMO. Has it hit your radar yet? Are you a victim? What is FOMO you ask? It’s an acronym for an old syndrome cloaked as something new. Fear of Missing Out, that’s FOMO. Today we’re blaming social media but it’s only an accelerant and not the cause. It’s always been with us, lurking in the shadows and now it’s slapping us in the face like a dead mackerel.
What are the symptoms of FOMO? Indicators may include a feeling of inadequacy, of being less than, feeling undeserving or unloved. It’s feeling like the last kid picked for the team or the girl left standing alone in the stag line at a dance. What can induce FOMO? Possible causes include paging through glossy magazines with “perfect” homes, “perfect” clothes and “perfect” families. Facebook posts can trigger FOMO. Images of the hip and with it set, flashing smiles, dressed to the teeth and raising cocktails. Everyone is having the time of their life on the cruise, at the concert, at the resort. Except you, you’re not in the picture. You’re missing out.
We’re blaming it (and lots of other problems) on social media today but let’s travel back in time, way back. Consider a situation when it could be life threatening to miss out on what others might know. Our ancient ancestors were keenly aware of the need for critical information in a timely manner. A location for fresh water, a new food source or a path around danger could make the difference between life and death. Movies are rich with examples of characters scrambling to know secret plans or steal treasure maps. Humans want to be in the know, in the loop and never want to be left in the dark.
It’s critical to understand why FOMO is so pervasive now. I gleaned a few thoughts from Quora, an open-forum Q&A website. Social media posts rarely involve anything remotely life threatening but still create disturbing emotions in us. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest have become our community lifeline where information is shared at lightning speed. Why do the feelings of being left out create such visceral thought triggers? Because we still have an ancient, very primitive area deep down in our brain. The limbic region has been hanging around since it was caveman’s “threat alarm,” trumpeting the familiar flight or fight response. Our old “lizard brain” is emotional, reactive, unfiltered and still at work messing with our feelings.
What’s wrong here and how do we fix it or at least ease our pain?
First, let’s deconstruct FOMO and begin with the letter F. It stands for FEAR. What does that acronym stand for? False Evidence Appearing Real! FOMO is based on lies. Seems like it’s time for a reality check, honey. The fabulous life you think you’re missing? It doesn’t exist! Those too-chipper posts are the emotional equivalent of a photo-shopped model. Point a camera at someone, say “cheese” and they’ll smile like a trained seal. We did not see the “before” shot. We weren’t there earlier today when they hated everything in their closet, their hair and themself. When they lay draped across the couch, too depressed to shower.
Most of all, we need a remedy. Okay, why not turn it around? Let’s try OMOF. Observe My Own Fabulousness. You come up with your own! How about FMOJ? Find My Own Joy. Byron Katie, the author of my opening quote, has always inspired my return trips to reality. Furthermore, Katie suggests it’s impossible that anything is missing in our life. If we needed it and we don’t have it, how could we be here? In truth, what could possibly be missing?
A couple of other things to consider.
So we know it’s a comparison game, right? That’s all it is. Have we ever considered how someone else is getting all FOMO over us? Our drabbest, most uninspiring day would be utterly astounding to a blind person who cannot see the splendid blazing colors of autumn or the crisp white blanket of new fallen snow. Hate your crepey-skinned, spider-veined legs? Imagine how a wheelchair-bound woman would feel if she had them for the sheer joy of walking upright and independently. I suggest that gratitude for what we have can be a powerful medicine against envy over what we don’t have. TFAT, Thankful For All Things. Be that.
I urge you to live in the present moment as much as possible. Because if you do, you’ll know much greater peace and satisfaction in your life. Finally, I want to share a remarkable piece of prose penned by Max Ehrmann in 1927. It’s called the Desiderata, Latin for “desired things”. One line stands out to me as relevant to this discussion. “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” His words ring as true today as when he first wrote them. I hope you’ll take them to heart.