The FOMO Generation? Is ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ Destroying Happiness

Image credit: Flickr user "taberandrew"

“I am the luckiest guy in the world.” This is one of my favorite sayings, and I believe it… most of the time.  But every once in a while (ok just this week) I catch a glimpse online of a friend sipping Coronas on the beach in the Bahamas, or a photo of a buddy shaking hands with Prince William, or I see that a friend took a job that I know pays about 3 times what I make.  And I get a little jealous.  I’ll admit it.

In past generations, people tried to keep up with the “Joneses,” their neighbors with a nicer yard, cuter kids, or a better car.  But now thanks to LinkedIn and Facebook we have to keep up with the Joneses and the Shahs, Lees, Carters, Smiths, Levys and our hundreds of other acquaintances online.

Increasingly my world is filled with overachievers who feel like underachievers.  At a BBQ this week with a group of peers in their 30s I heard of folks struggling to find the right job, lamenting the lack of  suitible partners, and feeling down on themselves for not reaching their full potential.  But this was not an unaccomplished group.  In the group there were individuals who had biked from Cairo to Cape Town (yes, the whole continent of Africa), served as an elite Army Ranger in Afghanistan, helped run presidential campaigns, rebuilt communities, raised millions of dollars for charity, worked for a Cabinet Secretary, given birth to a wonderful child, succeeded as an entrepreneur and more.  What was surprising was that every single one of these people suffered to some degree from FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

Triple Pundit Community: You have committed yourself to fulfilling lives.  Why do we suffer from FOMO and is it sustainable?  Why do we not always stop to smell the roses, appreciate all the gifts we have been given and the amazing opportunities that surround us?  How could we better appreciate how truly fortunate we are?  If you have some of the answers, please share.

Craig Isakow has a fulfilling job, the most intelligent, caring and beautiful girlfriend he could have ever imagined, a loving family, and every once in a while suffers from FOMO.

10 responses

  1. I do get that FOMO sense quite a bit – most frequently when I buy books or anything with a gift card. I think the internet does have a lot to do with it, you can always see what you’re missing out on. But I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It may not be sustainable when it comes to our current work culture. You might see a culture shift as a result. New generations care more about the life/work balance. They care more about living life to the fullest and doing what you want vs. doing what you feel you have to. And the economic downturn played a roll in that. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad way to live. But if it prohibits you from finding happiness and enjoying moments as they come then that’s a problem.

    1. My guess is that when you are accomplished, smart, privileged, and lucky, the world is truly your oyster, the constrained resource isn’t us, it’s time. Could we have lived any of the story lines of our super awesome friends? maybe? we just chose to use our time differently…and so we missed out out that story line just because we made different decisions….

  2. FOMO is not sustainable, but it is totally natural. It’s a symptom of so much information supporting social expectations that our desires should be fulfilled immediately. Patience, the very opposite of FOMO, is practically a synonym for sustainability.

  3. Great topic for discussion. Everyone has their ups and downs in life but people mostly list their ups. Our mind is taking the social media stream of our network and piecing together the good parts of everyone’s life into some form of super human entity.

    That super human entity is what we’re comparing ourselves to.

    It’s a futile exercise, though one that sometimes takes concious effort to break out of.

    1. Glad that you started this conversation Craig. Erik has a good point and I’d like to add a couple. We often hear that humans get stuck thinking about the past or future versus the present, most of the time. I would say that Facebook and Twitter are the places where our thinking seems to be stuck in the present. We have a tendency to compare what we’re doing RIGHT NOW to what we see other people posting with respect to their activities/status.

      I recently caught myself in this mindframe and now take a step back and remember all of the things I have already done and accomplished and the experiences I’ve had. Suddenly the context of those updates completely changes, and I remember how rich my life really is and has been to date.

      I’ll add that indeed there are a few very lucky people who have a lifestyle or means that afford them the ability to constantly travel and mingle. But this is not a realistic lifestyle for most. And I don’t know about you, but having been a nomad for several years in my 20’s, the thought of constant travel just makes me tired and think of all the other things I’d miss out on if I were on a plane every week.

  4. And one more thing – how often is that friend of yours sitting in the Bahamas sipping a cocktail from a coconut through a straw? Every other week? Or was that the only vacation he/she had this year, or possibly the first vacation in many years? Context is everything.

  5. As a Gen Y’er I suffer from FOMO constantly. We have been granted so much freedom and social mobility that it can almost be paralysing. I want to be everywhere (past, present and future!), do everything and be with everyone..

  6. I was just thinking about FOMO today. I feel paralyzed making decisions sometimes because I’m afraid I’m missing out on all the better options out there that I just don’t know about yet. I agree that facebook and other online social networks exacerbate the sneaking suspicion that I am underachieving (in love, life, finance) in comparison to my peers. The slow-food/slow-money movements, or patience as someone called it,seem to be a good remedy to the feeling that we have to rush to keep up with what everyone else is doing and reading!

  7. I had coffee today with a friend who mentioned Satisficers vs Maximizers.

    Satisficers are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high, but as soon as they find the pasta sauce or the business card that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, to make the best possible choice. Studies suggest that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers; maximizers spend a lot more time and energy to reach a decision, and they’re often anxious about whether they did, in fact, make the best choice.

    How many of us are Satisficers?

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