The Fear of Missing Out

You know the feeling, and I’m almost certain you know it well. You’ve had a lifetime of feeling it, on and off, and if you’ve logged into your social media account today, you’ve likely felt it very recently. I feel it too, sometimes. As humans, we all do. It’s called the “Fear of Missing Out,” or FOMO, for short. You may have heard previous generations refer to it as “Keeping up with the Jones’.” Whatever you want to call the feeling, it stinks.


The idea was landed on by Dr. Dan Herman in 1996, a marketing strategist who studied the phenomenon for years. “FOMO” as an acronym was coined by an author named Patrick J. McGinnis and really took off around 2004, when the idea was discussed in articles written for The Harbus, Harvard Business School’s magazine. Apparently, the ambitious and competitive students at the school, together with their engagement in emerging social media platforms, made for the perfect FOMO recipe. 


So, let’s get back to how FOMO makes us feel for a minute. By now you are more than aware that the feeling is a generally unpleasant one. Need a memory recap? Well, in elementary school, you likely felt it when you heard through the grape vine that your friends were meeting up at the park on Friday afternoon but no one said a word about it to you (for all you knew, no one had said anything to you about it yet, but, that isn’t the point). In high school, you probably felt FOMO creep in when you found out that one of your classmates was heading to Europe for the summer, but maybe your family couldn’t afford so much as a plane ticket. Or, after starting your new job, you noticed that one of your colleagues is driving a shiny, new Tesla. Perhaps said colleague is in debt, but again, that isn’t the point. Each of these times, FOMO knocked on your door, and you likely answered.


As a society, we’ve been taught from a young age (for many, many years) that the road to happiness can be broken down this way: good grades —> good school —> good job —> nice car and house —> nice “stuff” 

—> nice trips —> happy life. In the past, the Jones’ had the shiny new car, or the bigger yard, or the fancy trips to Europe. Today, we have social media to show us all of the “stuff” we’re missing out on. And we’re shown a lot; quickly and often. So, it’s no surprise that when we open up our Facebook or Instagram accounts, we are inevitably poked with the sticks of comparison and envy when we see countless images of what we aren’t doing, aren’t wearing or don’t have. Measuring ourselves up to others in this way can bring about feelings of depression, anxiety and even a feeling of helplessness - kind of the opposite of happy. The thing to remember as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds is that what we see isn’t an accurate depiction of reality. It’s great that people tend to show more of the good than the bad on social media, but these people, too, are, well, people. They aren’t perfect, they have flaws and they have bad days. These are the things you don’t always see when you log in. Nevertheless, as humans, particularly as we scroll, we’re going to feel FOMO - especially as the world opens up more and more and our feeds start to fill again with the enviable adventures of friends and strangers alike. 


Thankfully, an antidote to FOMO exists and the whole thing really hangs on one simple word: gratitude. Gratitude is more than just giving thanks for all the great things you’ve accumulated - and it’s perfectly okay to feel thankful for those things. Gratitude has more to do with noticing. When we practice gratitude, we are choosing to live in the present moment with all that surrounds us, consciously recognizing the benefits that already exist for us in those things. According to studies, even when we feel there isn’t much to be grateful for, the very act of trying to think of things that can make us feel grateful boosts serotonin (a mood-boosting chemical) in the brain! Another great thing about gratitude is that it can be practiced in any place and at any given moment - and a perfect moment to practice is when you’re stuck in a FOMO rut. Here’s what you can do: first, log out. If you can spare a little time, go for a long walk outside. Deliberately notice the sights and sounds that give you joy, and, take some time to enjoy them (close your eyes and smile!). If indoors, find a quiet space, light a candle (I recommend the Eleven Past Eleven “Grounded” candle) and take several long, deep breaths. Think of three things you are presently grateful for. They could be as simple as a great movie on Netflix, a favourite pair of cozy socks or a warm bath (and soaking in a tub with one of our straight-from-nature Raincare bath bombs would be the bomb here!). Then, acknowledge that you’re feeling grateful. Speaking words like, “this bath smells so good,” or, “these socks are so soft,” will help you savour your gratitude, maximizing the positive effect of this practice. So, while a walk in the park, a pair of cozy socks or a warm bath seem like uber-ordinary, everyday things, the truth is, people merely forget or aren’t even aware of how transformative these simple things can be. Who needs that Tesla, after all!


At the end of the day, FOMO is not a new concept, it just has a newer, hipper name. FOMO seems “all bad” but much like any other challenge or unpleasant feeling, even FOMO can be reframed as a valuable asset. It can inspire you to act on something you’ve been putting off, or maybe even encourage you to reach out and include others in your plans and endeavours. After all, everyone experiences FOMO, and, you never know who else may be stuck in a FOMO rut. Another reason to be kind to others? It’ll boost your mood (there’s that serotonin again!) and can even decrease your blood pressure during periods of anxiety and stress. Win-win.


As humans who are pleasure seekers by nature, it’s nice to be able to find ways to make the “bad” feel better. Sometimes, all it takes is logging out, looking around, and simplifying your life. And, when you’re feeling good, spread the love! You’ll get it back.

Written by, Karina Doob