FOMO, a paradox

How the fear of missing out is making us miss out on life

Talia Parlane, Staff Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

This summer, as I stared at my phone screen and scrolled through social media, my life felt bleak. I did a quick mental evaluation of myself and concluded that I was not doing well enough. Everyone else had made proper decisions and were living their best lives; whereas, I, a failure, continued to miss out on opportunities. Grabbing a box of crackers, I shoved them, mournfully, into my mouth and longed for the life that I could have been living.

In her article, “How to Deal With FOMO in Your Life,” Dr. Elizabeth Scott defines FOMO (fear of missing out) as “the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are.” She goes on to explain that it is often linked to qualities of envy and self-esteem, as well as being, “exacerbated by social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.”

Over the past few years, along with the rapid growth of technology and social media platforms, the fear of missing out has become a huge trending topic. Today, many of us have and continue to allow this sentiment to hold much power over our lives, affecting both our mindsets and decisions.

A study by the Gerontological Society of America found that when older people were compared to others who were perceived to be doing better at certain tasks, the outcome was often anxiety and worse performance.

Another study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences social comparison to be linked to interdependence (forming a reliance on one another). This was in contrast to independence and individualism.

While it is true that traits such as interdependence can be valued in more collectivistic societies, many other countries (such as the United States) often hold individualism and personal freedom to much higher esteem. It is here where a lack of independence could be seen as more of an impediment that holds us back from being our true selves and accomplishing what we most desire.

These two studies, along with countless others, illustrate how social comparison can cause us to lose our individualism, as well as acting as a deterrent — affecting our performance negatively and discouraging us mentally. This second effect, in my opinion, can be quite harmful as it can cause us to renounce our own positive qualities and experiences, replacing them with feelings of despair and discontentment.

As this process continues, we begin to lack gratitude and let our own positive circumstances slip away unacknowledged. This leads us to the question: What can be done to fix this fear of missing out, and how do we keep ourselves from falling into these mind-traps of regret and self-loathing?

Such pessimism often arises due to a lack of contentment with one’s own life. Thus, in order to address such sentiments, we need to fix the dissatisfaction problem.

Many will find that the most permanent solution to such a complex problem can be found through the simple act of being grateful. When one acknowledges their blessings and refrains from picking apart their flaws, the result is a peace of mind and freedom from standards that allows us to grow and explore. Likewise, implementing smaller habits such as limiting social media use and reflecting or journaling for five minutes each day can also yield good results.

As individuals living in the age of abundant technology and fast Wi-Fi, we must be wary of the effects of social comparison that arise when obsessing over the lives and traits of others. I believe that by allowing this sense of discouragement to take over, we are stunting our growth and individuality, letting FOMO act as a form of bondage that keeps us from living freely and how we would like.

It is essential that we refrain from being chained to the ideals, and instead, prioritize our own goals and values. Life is too short to dwell on comparison and regrets. We must move past these feelings of dissatisfaction and replace them with gratitude.