Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

An analysis of FOMO
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This past Thursday, I sprained my ankle at club soccer practice. I assumed I could continue with my daily schedule until I woke up the following morning and was unable to walk. As I forlornly typed an email to my Writing 1 professor to cancel a meeting, I realized that I would be confined to my dorm for the entire day: no classes, no appointments, and no social outings. I cleared my calendar and hopped down to the lobby, where I hoped I could at least be around people. I learned I have an incredible support system; I lost count of all of the people who have helped me these past few days. (Example: my friend Bilal sat me on his bike and wheeled me to the student health center a mile away, and Natalie, my teammate, picked me up from the health center to drive me back to my dorm. So many people have volunteered to make me an icepack, spend time with me, carry my stuff, etc. Friends visited me from other dorms and made me feel special, and even my dad flew up from Santa Monica to check in on me.)

But, as great as the people here are, it was difficult for me to be stuck elevating my foot on a couch while my friends went to Stories of Sustainability, dinner off-campus, and a Mardi Gras party. I pledged and fundraised to dance in a 24-hour Dance Marathon, but the trek was too far to make on crutches. And, of course, I missed my soccer game at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Even with the excess time I gained, I couldn’t concentrate on my work because I knew I was missing out and wanted to make it up by spending time with other people. The picture that accompanies this article happened when Rachel, a friend from my hall, saw me slugging through my chemistry problem set at an astonishingly slow rate and requested that I keep her company while she baked rainbow cookies. For the first time in two days, I felt useful. I rely on being busy to keep myself grounded and efficient, and I felt lost in the vast sea of unplanned hours that seemed to stretch endlessly before me.

And yet, I still felt like I was missing out, even as I was kneading blue dye into cookie dough and listening to a 2000s summer hits playlist on Pandora with Rachel. When I caught myself wondering what it would be like to dance for 24 hours straight, I asked myself why I was incapable of fully embracing the moment. The feeling isn’t unique to this injury; I find myself struggling to truly be present in situations when there are other, equally attractive options occurring. I know I am not the only person experiencing this; I hear the acronym “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out,” tossed around conversations on a daily basis.

Why do we feel this way?

According to its Wikipedia page, FOMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent,” a sophisticated way of wording anxiety that an exciting event may be occurring elsewhere. The key words here are might and may; these modal verbs simply suggest possibility, though in the moment they seem definitive. Etymologically speaking, FoMO had an alarmingly high usage around 1800, though a quick search of Google Books suggests “fomo” back then was probably (definitely) defined differently.

Numerous online and newspaper articles – and even scientific journal entries – have analyzed the phenomenon. Frequently explained using self-determination theory, the psychological investigation of the acronym suggests “the FoMO phenomenon can be understood as self-regulatory limbo arising from situational or chronic deficits in psychological need satisfactions.” In short, people can choose to adjust their actions to fulfill their desires of competence (usefulness), autonomy (self-freedom), and relatedness (connection with others). This explains why I, and other people, feel antsy in situations when we feel like we’re missing out on other events; knowing that we control our decisions and fearing that we chose incorrectly results in anxious feelings and a longing to be a part of the excitement. After all, some events are unforgettable and beget lifelong memories, and it is often difficult to reconcile missing one such occasion for another one (that is significantly less exhilarating).

FOMO is especially potent at Stanford; the phrase is so commonly used on campus that it is not unusual to express regret at choosing to attend one occasion as opposed to another. There is so much happening all the time that is almost impossible to feel bored, and the sheer number of opportunities available to us is a bit overwhelming. I appreciate all of the choices– this is a great problem to have—but that does not dull the effect that many students here feel. Triple, my first sexion leader in band, offered this piece of advice in a letter to his freshman self: “You must learn to choose.”

I have struggled with learning to choose this entire year, and though it was almost freeing to suddenly have my decisions made for me after I injured my ankle, I simultaneously felt more chained. External conditions aside, it is clear that the solution to FOMO is to be grateful for having so many choices, to fully embrace one decision, and to be present in that moment.

Yet, despite knowing this, it is still extremely difficult to rid ourselves of those anxious feelings. The quote “Don’t miss all the beautiful colors of the rainbow looking for that pot of gold” rings true, but we will probably continue searching for the gold. There are always more things to do, and many of us will keep choosing to fill our time with as many activities as can fit in a schedule.

So, will we overcome FOMO? Some people definitely will, and perhaps it will get easier as time passes. But, for those of us who are unsure, it is important to note that we are not perfect. We will miss out. And that’s okay, because FOMO goes both ways; while it is impossible to be at every exciting event all of the time, it is highly unlikely (while putting in an honest effort) that we will miss out on every single exciting event. Life does not behave like an optimization problem, especially when there are so many variables at play. If we do not accept that we will miss out, then we are setting ourselves up to be unhappy. There are always silver linings, and while some silver linings are shinier than others, they are silver linings nonetheless.

As I’m lying on the floor of my hallway with my leg up against the wall, typing this article and mixing metaphors with an ice pack bandaged to my swollen ankle, I can’t help but chuckle. I’m encouraging everyone to be optimistic and to attempt to overcome FOMO when I spent a good chunk of this weekend wishing my foot would miraculously recover so I could go out. Though this weekend wasn’t the most exciting, I definitely had fun. Three friends brought me dinner on Friday night. One of my RAs taught me how to make a Google form for a dorm-wide kudos program we’re starting. My dad bought enough Chinese take-out for ten people last night. Quite a few people gave me piggy-back rides. My hallmates wheeled me to a Chinese New Year gathering in an office chair. And rainbow cookies! (And chocolate chip cookies that I accidentally let burn… sorry Rachel)

This experience didn’t help me overcome FoMO, but I still managed to have fun. Hopefully, I’ll reach a point in my life when I can consistently devote myself to individual moments. But, if not, at least I won’t miss out on everything.

Cover Image Credit: Janet Coleman-Belin

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When you make a girl an aunt, you make her a very protective person.

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When you make a girl an aunt, you give her a miniature best friend.

There is something about an aunt that is so fun. An aunt is a person you go to when you think you're in trouble or when you want something mom and dad said you couldn't have. An aunt is someone who takes you to get ice cream and play in the park to cool down after having a temper tantrum. I can't wait to be the one he runs to.

When you make a girl an aunt, she gets to skip on the difficulty of disciplining.

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When you make a girl an aunt, you give her the best listening ears.

As of right now I only listen to the sweet coos and hungry cries but I am fully prepared to listen to all the problems in his life in the future.

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By the time my nephew needs advice, hopefully, I will have all of my life lessons perfected into relatable stories.

When you make a girl an aunt, you make her a number-one fan

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When you make a girl an aunt, she learns what true love is.

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I Wonder If You'd Be Proud of Me

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I wonder if you'd be proud of me.

My first thought when I wake up in the morning is whether or not you still think of me. I think about if I am wearing the right outfit if I were to see you that day. I think about if I am saying the right thing for you to want to want me again.

Throughout my day, I think about whether or not you're happy. I wonder if the feeling in my heart of missing who I thought you were is making its way to you. Sometimes I think about what I did to make you hate me as much as you do.

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I wonder if you watch me. I wonder if the posts I make, pictures I post, and articles I write are viewed by you and whether or not you care to even search my name. I wonder if you ask people about me or if you care to know the person I am today.

Without you, I have changed. It has been two years and though time will only continue moving on without you, I wonder what would have happened if I didn't make the choices I made to make you react in the way you have.

When the sun shines bright on the flowers blooming around campus, I think of your jokes and sarcastic wit. When the rain pours from the sky and keeps me imprisoned within the walls of a building, I think of ways I felt imprisoned by you. When clouds form shapes in the sky that I can make stories out of, I think of the way life could've been.

Sometimes I write to you. They are the letters I can never send because I have to remind myself that though we knew each other once, you do not know me anymore. The picture in my mind of who you are now is someone who'd love me with open arms, but I know that there's no truth in that. It's only my wishful thinking out to break my heart once more.

I wonder if you hear me when I try talking to you. I wonder if the words I tell God are making their way to you as you go on living the life we always talked about when times get tough. I wonder if you're talking to God about me.

As I watch the sunset, I think about the last moment I was with you. As that chapter ended, I was only wishfully thinking that walking away would save me from further pain. In the end, I don't know about how life would've been different had it not happened.

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No matter what, my heart still yearns for a hug. A hug where I can bury myself into your body and feel safe. A hug where I forget every worry in my mind and focus solely on the love.

I wonder if you'd still love me if I changed myself to be the person you've always wanted me to be. I wonder if you'd forgive me for walking away, even if it was for me to change to be a better person. I wonder if you'll ever even read this.

Days like today, I want to go back in time. I sit on the benches around campus and look up at the sky, down at the cars passing by, and listen to life move on all around me as I remain stuck. I hear people talking, see them laughing, and wonder if there's any way I could one day feel as alive as they do.

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