Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

An analysis of FOMO

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

Popular Right Now

Dear Little Sis

Focus on yourself rather than boys.

Dear sis,

This is your first year of high school and you are about to be 15! I remember my 15th birthday like it was yesterday. Two years later I left for college and left high school behind. I wish I would have had some of this advice when I was your age. I would have slowed down and enjoyed my life, in the moment. I took for granted a lot of the small things around me. I hope you enjoy the life you are given because you only get one! So live it up.

Always search for volunteer opportunities. Helping others will help you become a more open-minded caring person. it builds character and will bring you happiness in ways I can not explain.

School matters more than you might think.

Every college has a certain grade point average, but you should always strive to get the best grades you can. Studying now will pay off in the long run. If I could give you any advice when it comes to school it is that learning multiple studying tips are very important.

Keep a small circle of friends. You watched me in high school so you know that it was always me, Brenda, Michaela, and Summer. I still talk to all of these girls today. One day you will be attending your first homecoming with your girlfriends then you blink and you are attending your senior year prom. You and your friends will fight from time-to-time, but they will be the ones to console you after a breakup or scream with you when you get into college.

Be nice to mom as much as you can.

Mom is the one who will drive you around until you finally can. Then when you can finally drive she will be always worried if you are okay and what you are doing. She will bend over backward trying to find a meal that you want to eat to make you happy. One day you will be in college and realize nobody cooks a pot roast or macaroni like she does. I always regret raising my voice and fighting with her, because all he wanted was the best for me. She will work her butt off to give you the things you want to be mindful the next time you get mad because you want the newest makeup or iPhone. Be grateful for the little things she does, because one day you will be eating ramen and calling her to ask what dryer sheets are.

Focus on yourself rather than boys.

I promise you the person you like at 14 will not matter to you by the time you graduate. At your age boys are immature and the most important thing to them is video games and what their friends think. Always have the confidence to tell yourself that you deserve better.

Get involved in extracurricular. This will allow you to meet so many people that might not be in the "circle" you run with. It is important you are accustomed to people that might be different than you. It is also great for you to be involved with your school so you have memories to cherish for years to come and comes with great opportunities.

Life is what you make it!!

Cover Image Credit: Alicia Steels

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Back To Reality

Only six more weeks of school!

Unfortunately spring break has come to an end. Fortunately, the weeks that follow spring break before summer are some of the fastest you'll ever experience.

If you're a senior in high school, you'll be shocked to see how fast your last year of high school went by. Prom will be coming up, and you'll start to say your last goodbye's to people you've virtually spent your whole life with

Similarly, if you're a freshman in college, you won't believe that you graduated high school a year ago already.

Lastly, if you're a senior in college, get ready to be thrown into the real world real soon. The only way you can delay that is if you're leaving college just to go back to continue more school after (yay for higher education @MedStudents @LawStudents).

These weeks for college students will be filled with the middle round of exams, and then final exams. Finals will hit us like a bus as they always do, but at that point you have three months of not thinking about school once, what's better than that?

The weather will start to get warmer (hopefully.... @Syracuse), people will start to hang out more outside, and you can almost taste the freedom. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, if only you could get there sooner.

Once these weeks go by, I will enter my third year of college and no longer be an underclassmen. My big will graduate and it will just be my little and I in our sorority, and will (hopefully) be getting ready to study abroad.

Back to the reality that is school, it sucks that spring break is over. When you first get back, it's going to feel like the days are dragging and you just can't fathom how you're supposed to get through another six weeks of school.

As you get back into the rhythm of things, you see that March blends into April and once you're in April you realize finals exist again, and then next thing you know it it's May, you just finished your last exam, and you're moving out of school.

Another one gone, another year bites the dust.

The time between Spring Break and finals is actually my favorite. You feel the energy of your school go up because you're in the home stretch of finishing up for the year and everyone just seems happier. Even the chronically stressed take a step back and appreciate all the hard work they've done in the year.

Take these weeks with a grain of salt because before you know it it'll be over. Life goes on and time doesn't stop for anyone, so enjoy your time in the places that you are while you can!

Cover Image Credit: Anna Russo

Related Content

Facebook Comments