FOMO: The Joy Stealer

Scrolling through the Instagram feeds we often feel that others are living ‘the life’. Travelling to scenic places, trying out various food items, and engaging in different adventures. The hikes and treks that I see on Insta reels make me feel that I haven’t explored my city at all. Instagram sometimes reminds me how much I miss out on life’s awesomeness. I’m sure those of you who are on social media might empathize with me.

We live in a time where there’s no dearth of content on social media platforms. Every time we view such content, we realise that our bucket list just keeps increasing. We face an uncertain feeling about whether we are living to our full potential or are satisfied with where we are in our life. There arises a feeling that we might miss out on something. We have an apprehension that we might find it difficult to cope with such a situation. The fear of missing out compels us to stay active as much as possible. It drives us to be compulsive active participants on social media.

This fear of missing out a.k.a FOMO is real and is visible among many of us. Sometimes we can see it clearly within us, but quite often, we remain oblivious to it. It is that feeling of anxiety or worry that we experience when we think that we are missing out on something very important, unique, and interesting. This phenomenon was initially seen among those engaged in the world of social media. Excess exposure and activity on such platforms lead to emotional tension, anxiety issues, inadequate sleep, and inability to control emotions. FOMO makes us impulsive, and anxious, which might blur our ability to make right and realistic decisions. It makes us doubt ourselves. The deep desire to have interpersonal connections sometimes leads to anxiety issues.

As humans, we have a deep longing to be loved and accepted. We are deeply afraid of social exclusion. Social networking platforms
facilitate a feeling of connectedness with one another. It allows sharing our life experiences and milestones with others. However,
they also create a distorted perspective of an individual’s life.

An individual who views that distorted perspective is naturally inclined to think that they are missing such an experience. This leads to a perception that their way of life is inadequate and uninteresting which may result in a feeling of loneliness. To counter that they immerse themselves all the more on these platforms to find out ways or ideas, which in turn leads them to the same perception of inadequacy and loneliness.

With the line between virtual and real-world is thin, FOMO is not just limited to social networking platforms alone. It is no more confined to virtual interactions alone but it has transcended to those real-life experiences that are ‘glorified’ on social media platforms thereby creating a deep longing to not miss the bus. The most recent case is the heavy influx of social media influencers who aggressively promoted investing in cryptocurrency & various NFTs. Millennials and Gen Z influencers talked heavily about being independent and being pioneers of this new investment type. The strong FOMO feeling led to a surge in cryptocurrency investments among many novice investors who wanted to make a quick buck. A few months earlier, the crypto market crashed. Many young individuals, who invested their savings, lost a lot of money. Let me be clear, I’m not against investing. I’m cautioning on the tendency to make impulsive decisions due to FOMO.

The FOMO phenomenon can be seen more clearly in our anxiety over many areas of life. The fear of missing out on hanging out with friends on a trip, missing out on the weekend party with friends or colleagues, and many more. The anxious feeling that looms at the back of our head that we might just lose some exciting fun shared experiences drives us to be at all places. If you have a wider social circle, the struggle is all the more chaotic. The desire to not miss out on anything and yet the practical difficulty of being everywhere poses a conundrum. We struggle to say no. We don’t want to say no. We are afraid that not being an active participant in these groups might lead to social exclusion. We desire affirmation and acceptability from those to whom we are connected. We, therefore, push ourselves to be there as much as possible. The struggle becomes real when resources like time and money are very limited when compared to the long list of things, we want to be in. We find it difficult to give a prior commitment to a particular event or experience because we’d prefer to keep our options open till the last moment, just in case a better and more important unique experience opens up. We perceive that such an experience might lead to better satisfaction and social acceptability. Camp and event organisers face a tough time in getting advance confirmations as many participants would be weighing their options till the last moment.

FOMO drives us to be on the lookout for every shared experience, especially new and unique experiences. It coaxes us to engage in such experiences and after such an engagement, makes us search once more for shared, unique experiences. Thus, FOMO becomes a vicious cycle of focused searching and engagement which ultimately leads to mental health problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness. Sometimes, intense FOMO leads a person to conform to various situations leading to a point of an identity crisis.

Even though FOMO is a new term, the feeling has been around for centuries. We see Adam and Eve experiencing FOMO when Satan tempted them. Rebekah felt the same for her favourite son Jacob and urged him to take the inheritance from his father through deceit. In fact, Solomon penned down in words a similar struggle that he was going through in Ecclesiastes 2:4-8, 10 and felt a sense of emptiness and futility. He says in verse 11:

So, I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold, all was futility and striving after wind, and there was no benefit under the sun. FOMO always desires for more and is never satisfied.

The desire to be everywhere, to participate in every activity, hang out with different groups, and not miss out on any important moment poses a serious challenge in deciding our priorities. We need to try out new things and create or participate in new shared experiences. But we need to also learn to strike a balance between contentment and engagement in experiences. Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned to be content in any circumstance. The secret to such a balance is because of his faith that Christ would strengthen him. FOMO blurs our focus in maintaining such a balance. Our anxiety takes control, and we forget our priorities. Our natural fear of social exclusion leads us to the understanding that we are alone, and we need to work out a solution on our own. Like Paul, we need to regularly affirm that we are part of God’s family. God is very much concerned about our anxieties. We need to commit those anxieties and fears before Him. He invites us to do so. 1 Peter 5:7 says, cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you.

We’ve got to learn to slow down and miss out a few experiences to learn the joy of contentment. FOMO drives us to do everything, but we fail to enjoy the experience. Solomon realized it towards the end of his life. In Ecclesiastes 3, he says, that there is a time for everything. No point in chasing everything together. There’s a time to travel, a time to relax, a time to hangout, a time to study, a time for fellowship and a time to work. Realising this, helps us to slow down and enjoy whatever limited experiences we go through. That has a longer and enriching impact.

Robin is an adventure-based counsellor. He is involved in Christian outdoor camping and leadership development. He has a keen interest in digital anthropology and explores the influence of technology on society and culture. He’s a staff with UESI Mumbai and is involved in various facets of urban ministry. Robin’s wife Hannah is a content writer and editor. She’s passionate about working among children.

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