Psychology series: Big, bad FOMO and how to overcome it

11:48:00 AM

 First published in Vajb magazine, in Serbian language. 

Raise your hand if you've ever felt bad because you thought everyone's life is better and more fun than yours. (Hint: it's not)

Let's talk about "illness" that is more widespread among Millenials and Gen Z than Black Plague used to be among Europeans in the 14th century.

Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO from now on) is a fear that, as the name says, you're missing out on something because everything fun is happening somewhere where you're not. It's not about what would you gain from being there, but what you would miss out on if you weren't.

You know, that feeling that your peers are doing something much cooler than you and that they're richer and happier than you.

The term is created in 2004. by Patrick J. McGinnis in his article for the magazine of the Harvard University, but the unsettling feeling behind it is probably as old as the society itself.


Even though it has always existed, I think I don't need to put special emphasis on the fact that look-how-much-fun-I'm-having-and-how-exciting-my-life-is photos and videos that you can't escape from, no matter what social media you have, don't exactly help.
There are several pieces of research on this topic and the results are more-less the same - around 70% of our generation admitted that they had experienced FOMO. And we are, not surprisingly, the generation that has spent the majority of our life in front of screens - first the TV screen, then the computer screen and finally the screen of our smartphone.

What would above mentioned medieval Europeans consider unthinkable, we consider normal - if we want, we can find out how people all around the world are doing right now and how they live. We also don't have to peek over the fence (at least not physically) to find out what people around us are up to. It's enough to move our thumb and scroll a little.

I would love to say that medieval Europeans would find that incredible as much as we would find their lack of hygiene incredible, but I had my fair share of having to go to a public toilet to find out the hard way that the lack of hygiene is still alive and well. But, back to the point.

FOMO in marketing

FOMO is not only "I saw on Facebook that my friend from high school is now married, travelling the world and having fun while I failed my exam for the second time and I'm home all the time so I feel everyone is having a better time than me".
It's also a powerful marketing tool and it's very successful in making us feel that we need to spend our hard-earned money on their product or service.

Sales that are today only.
A limited edition that you can buy now and never again.
An incredible offer that you must purchase now or you'll never get it.

And what if you miss the opportunity that cannot be missed?
Well - nothing.
Unless you refuse Don Corleone's offer, you won't wake up with a dead horse's head in your bed. Those sales and incredible offers will probably last for some time, and it's likely that something similar to that limited edition product already exists somewhere else, not limited and cheaper.

Remember this article the next time they try to persuade you that what they offer is absolutely necessary!!, bolded and colored in bright colors and with too many exclamation marks.
It's completely fine to spend your money on something you want and you like, but think twice if you really want it and you really like it? Or they just used good, old FOMO to market their product, create a sense of urgency and rush you into the purchase?

What's the difference between FOMO and wanting to live a fulfilled life?

 A question that came to my mind when I was researching this topic was: where a desire to live your life to the fullest ends, and where FOMO starts?

Since I didn't manage to find an adequate answer by someone smarter than me, we'll have to settle with my own answer.

There are two key differences: 

1. Motivation - when we want to live a fulfilled life, our main motivation is what we will gain from that experience, whereas FOMO's main concern is what we would lose if we miss it.

2. How we see the life we currently live - in the case of FOMO, we're not satisfied with our life, while in other case we see our life as a "work in progress" we love and for that reason we want to make it better and richer.

How to overcome FOMO?

Now when we learned what it is, it's time to learn how to overcome it.
Gupta from advises the following:

First step: be aware of the problem.
Hi, I'm Dunja and I suffer from FOMO.

Step number two: turn off the noise around you.
Let's be honest to ourselves and admit to ourselves that it's not healthy to check what others are doing all the time. Nor it's necessary to read what incredibly important and smart thing politicians or celebrities blessed us with in the past couple of days. We also don't have to let influencers and bloggers influence our every choice.
Minimize the noise and listen to your thoughts more. Don't spend too much time on the internet - yes, you too, even if your job is connected to the Internet or the social media. Detox yourself from them from time to time.

Third step: practice being present in the moment.
Here comes the cliche: pay attention to small things, be grateful and work on yourself physically and mentally. But those things are important, cliche or not.
If you really want to practice living in the present, meditation is great too.

Bonus: ask yourself these questions when you realize the charming feeling we're talking about is kicking in:
Is this something I really want?
Is this feeling telling me I have to change something in my life?
Is this thing I want even possible and doable in this phase of my life?
Is this even real life? (when you see something on social media that sparked FOMO)

After all, the biggest thing you could miss out on is having a calm mind and being in peace with yourself.


More from the Psychology series: Why are we lonely?Maslow's hierarchy of needs

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