“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
It’s the end of a long week. You’re tired, irritable, and you have to get ready for that party. All you want to do is have an early night, but you pep-talk yourself in the mirror: “You should enjoy things like this. If you don’t go, you’ll regret it. Everyone will be telling you what a great time they had. Don’t be the only one not there.”
Then, you get a notification. The party’s canceled – relief!
Why do we feel that it's wrong to treat ourselves to a night in when everyone else is heading out to that club, or to see that new movie? It used to be called "keeping up with the Joneses." Now, it’s FOMO, the fear of missing out on what our friends and peers have, see and do – and it’s damaging our physical and mental health.
Marketing and advertising have cemented the feeling that the grass is always greener everywhere else we look. But we do it to ourselves, too. I used to look at my friend Sarah’s photos and instantly feel deflated, as she seemed to have filled every second of her week with exciting events and bumper shopping hauls.
When I was too tired, too ill, or just not in the mood to go out myself, I’d be flooded with FOMO feelings. Sometimes, I’d spend so long weighing up my options that I’d end up staying in and doing nothing – and then sulking about it. Or, if I did do something, I didn’t enjoy it.
The average adult spends four hours every day on social media platforms, and a 2018 LinkedIn survey found that 70 percent of employees stay connected even on vacation.
We've come to rely on this constant stimulation, and it’s changed the way we view our own happiness, goals, friendships, achievements, and sense of fun. I follow various travel influencers on Instagram, but I often wonder whether gazing wistfully at those beautiful beaches and dreamy landscapes is more depressing than it is inspiring.
Our feeds explode with all the latest news, and with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet new people and do new things. Overwhelmed by choice, we can spend all day on the sofa, wishing we were doing something else. For many of us, this is a vicious, daily cycle. Do you ever feel unhappy or agitated after scrolling through your feed for an hour? It’s because communicating in that way constantly triggers our emotions but doesn’t satisfy our need for connection.
FOMO can also lead us into behaviors that actively do us harm. In 2018, a Credit Karma/Qualtrics study of 1,045 Americans aged 18-34 revealed that almost 40 percent had gone into debt so they could "keep up" with the lifestyles of friends that they had seen on social media. Another study showed that FOMO causes fatigue, stress and sleep problems in university students.
FOMO affects us at work, too. You may feel that you can't afford to miss any opportunity to stretch yourself, or to put your skills under the spotlight. But you can’t – and shouldn’t – say yes to everything. It’s exhausting, and you won’t be at your best or most productive if you do. FOMO steals our time and our energy, knocks us off course, and leaves us dazed and confused.
Luckily, there is a remedy. JOMO is the opposite of FOMO – it’s the joy of missing out. It's about self-awareness, and understanding what you really need, and why. Setting your own standards and priorities allows you to take better care of yourself. And when you choose to to ignore the Joneses altogether, you can focus on the bigger picture and take realistic steps toward your most important goals.
So, forget about taking part in something just because others are, and don't let your friends guilt-trip you about it. Instead, take some time for self-reflection and self-discovery. That way, you'll find out what really fulfills you and gives you a genuine sense of purpose and connection.
JOMO can even improve team spirit. The psychologist Leon Festinger wrote that our desire to compare ourselves to others is a drive almost as strong as hunger. So, when we see "perfection" online, or imagine it in our friends or co-workers, we immediately contrast it unfavorably with our own situation. This can lead to resentment or conflict.
But, of course, what we see online is never the whole story. On Instagram, you don't see couples arguing at the airport; you only see their cute selfies once they're safely on board.
Comparison may be useful sometimes, but it can lead to self-sabotage if you're chasing an unrealistic ideal or pursuing someone else's dream. We all feel pressure to make money, to be the best, to look beautiful, to see the world. But is society’s idea of success the same as yours? What are your values? How do you achieve the change and growth that you need?
Self-reflection is different from beating yourself up. Think about that before you compare yourself to a celebrity, to that mom-of-three who's also a successful CEO, or to the guy in the office who never, ever has a bad hair day. Or try some "temporal comparison" – instead of comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to you in the past, or to the person you want to become. This can help you to gain a deeper awareness of your own thoughts and desires, and to discard any self-hating rhetoric.
During a recent country retreat, I found myself with absolutely no signal. Day one was awful; I kept pulling my phone anxiously from my pocket. Day two? It was sort of freeing. I sat at the breakfast table listening to the birds and watching fox cubs play on a mound of dirt in our rented garden. And I knew that on a typical day, I would have been staring at my screen and missing all of it.
There’s beauty in the little moments, if we take the time to notice. That’s the sort of thing we should be fearful of missing out on.
Increased self-awareness nurtures emotional intelligence, and helps you understand what matters to you; what you want to keep and what you should ignore. Reflect on what you already have, so you don’t waste precious energy worrying about what you don’t. This feeling of gratitude has been linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and to higher levels of life satisfaction, creativity and social integration.
JOMO can give you more time for spontaneity, meditation, exercise, that drawing class, and all the other things that you "never have time" for. And less screen time is good for our eyes, and our brains. We gravitate toward that little screen when we’re sad, stressed, bored, or lonely, because it dulls our feelings. It’s escapism.
But life is meant to be experienced and savored, even on the days when it sucks. JOMO isn’t so much a detox; it’s more like one of your "five a day." It encourages you to live and enjoy every moment. It’s not about relishing the fact that you're missing out on fun things – it’s about saying yes to what you think is fun, whether that’s a fancy party or just watching TV with your pet.
The American writer, poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” He was right.
Look away from your screens and make real connections. Enjoy the magic in the little things, and let yourself feel the joy of missing out on the stuff that you don't really want or need. Taking a break from all the clutter and distraction gives you the time and energy to identify and commit to the things that really matter to you – things that truly engage you and move you closer to your goals.
Take the time to understand what you want, not what your friends want, or what the influencers you follow are telling you to do.
Life is messy and scary, but don’t live in fear. Make it joyful and make it yours.
Do you suffer from FOMO? Or have you already embraced JOMO? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
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