The Joy of Missing Out

October 28, 2019
No one likes missing out

According to the latest industry figures, well over 3 billion people are active on social media. That’s over 40% of the world’s population posting, liking, sharing and feeling more and more anxious as they scroll through their news feed.

Love it or avoid it, social media is here to stay. And while it’s brilliant at connecting us and promoting good causes and important information, it’s relentless 24/7 activity and accessibility on smartphones and computers means our (over) use of it is taking a toll on our mental health. A recent NHS report on social media claims rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by as much as 70% over the last 25 years.

All that glitters is not gold

The problem, it seems, is FOMO, or fear of missing out, which the Oxford English Dictionary describes as "the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, [are] in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you."

The phrase was coined by American entrepreneur Patrick McGinnis in 2004 when he went to Harvard Business School. McGinnis grew up in a small, quiet town, but on finding himself among 1,800 very ambitious young people began “trying to do everything and be everywhere” in order to fit in. It was too much and it made him feel stressed.

Research reveals that while FOMO affects people of all ages, it’s younger generations that are being harmed by it the most. Subjecting themselves to daily, near-constant, often doctored images of physical, financial and social ideals of ‘perfection’ are being experienced as a serious added pressure on top of needing to do well in school and be popular.

"The problem with FOMO is... looking outward instead of inward," explains Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. "When you're so tuned in to the 'other,' or the 'better' (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world." 

Keeping it real

Thankfully, there is an antidote – also with its own catchy acronym that’s made it to the world’s most respected English dictionaries. JOMO is defined as “pleasure gained from enjoying one’s current activities without worrying that other people are leading more fulfilled lives.” 

A friend of hygge, ( joy of missing out is the calming counterbalance to FOMO. Where the fear of missing out sends cortisol levels rising, the joy of missing out peacefully pats them down while simultaneously fluffing-up the feelgood oxytocin hormones flowing through our sensitive bodies.

It’s the grounding, warming, health-boosting contentment in experiencing ourselves as OK as we are, right now, with what we have.

It’s putting our happiness first. 

It’s not going out when we really don’t feel like it. 

It’s the self-control in not comparing ourselves to others and not defining our self-worth by what others are doing, or claiming to do.

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present. Lao Tzu”

JOMO, then, is the conscious decision to choose what’s real, lasting and true, however that manifests for you. For many of us, that means going offline and spending meaningful time with our loved ones, human and animal. Of giving our time and energy to the real connections that shape us, instead of wasting time trying to impress virtual ‘friends.’

Making space for happiness

US physician Kristen Fuller writing for Psychology Today puts it well: “Instead of constantly trying to keep up with the Jones’, JOMO allows us to be who we are in the present, which is the secret to finding happiness. When you free up that competitive and anxious space in your brain, you have so much more time, energy and emotion to conquer your true priorities.”

JOMO is about:

  • Limiting time spent on social media – using it wisely instead of it using you 
  • Observing our thoughts, emotions and habits – what’s really driving them? Fear and not feeling good enough or self-worth?
  • Following our inner voice – and doing what truly nourishes and uplifts us
  • Focusing on the here and now – fully enjoying the present, as it unfolds.

Does getting 30 likes make us happy? Truly? Or might inspiring 30 people to sign an environmental petition, for example, have more meaning and a longer-lasting effect on our happiness? Instead of doing something that looks good, JOMO means doing actual good – for ourselves and for others. It means looking within ourselves – not social media – for happiness.

12 steps to JOMO
If you’re new to the idea of JOMO, here are some simple ideas to help you experience it:

  1. Going on a long walk in nature by yourself or with a loved one
  2. Treating yourself to a healthy homemade meal 
  3. Saying no to drinks after work and going home instead for a lovely long candlelit bath
  4. Listening to an inspirational podcast (This one’s dedicated to JOMO –
  5. Being creative – playing music, dancing, singing, cooking, crafting, gardening...
  6. Learning a new skill to help others (thank you to the authors of Compassion in Commerce for this inspiring idea)
  7. Writing a gratitude list
  8. Meditating – “finding the pleasure in your emptiness… in favour of your peaceful self” as Australian artist Michael Leuing puts it in his popular poem, JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)
  9. A night of feelgood films on Netflix
  10. Curling up with a good book
  11. Signing-up to Scroll-Free September – the Royal Society for Public Health initiative is a chance to reflect on your social media use – what you missed, what you didn’t, and what you got to enjoy instead. Find out more here:
  12. Making a plan for achieving something you’ve always wished to do.

No. 1 of the top five regrets of the dying in a book of the same name by Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent years caring for patients at the end of their life, is:

I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

"This was the most common regret of all”, writes Ware. “When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. 

“Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise until they no longer have it."

So, switch off your phone or computer, slip into something comfy, put on your favourite slippers and join us in the sweet, sweet joy of ‘missing out’.