JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out)

Since the invention of social media, it’s become much easier to see what you’re missing out on. Parties, dinners, holidays or just hanging out at home are all events that are photographed, filtered, captioned and posted across various platforms. The aim: to make the author of these posts seem like they’re having the most #amazeballs time possible. As a result, the friends and followers viewing these photos will undoubtedly feel at a loss for not having an #amazeballs time, as they scroll down their News-feeds while sat at the bus stop or on the loo.

This is especially the case for the author’s friends who, for whatever reason, couldn’t attend the event. The next time these poor people see the event’s attendees, there will often be an acute apprehension that simmers away their stomach, anxiously awaiting the mention of ‘in-jokes’ that were born at the meetup they didn’t attend. They panic about feeling left out, isolated and left behind. To prevent this in future, they endeavour to attend every social function that they can. Club nights, birthdays, meals out, funerals, trips to the toilet - you name it, they’ll be there.

This perturbation has a name, commonly referred to under the acronym ‘FOMO’. For long: Fear of Missing Out. It’s a part of life that the majority of humanity will experience at one point or another if they’ve ever had to decline a social event. Sometimes FOMO surfaces with events that are far out of our reach, like the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, Glastonbury or the Oscars. Looking at the photos, it’s difficult not to wish you were there and feel FOMO’s mournful bite.

This, of course, is completely ridiculous. Most people aren’t able to attend every single social event. After spending a brief moment pining for red carpets and festival tickets, I remind myself how unlikely it is to be able to go. I’m also careful to remind myself that what I have already is enough. It’s a difficult thought to come to terms with, especially since everything posted and written about these events is designed to fuel our hankering for them. That said, it’s much easier to accept when there’s very little chance of attendance in the first place.

I frequently grappled with FOMO during my teens, anxious to participate in every social occasion possible close to devastated if I couldn’t. “It’s so unfair!” I would grunt at my parents if they denied me the opportunity to socialise. “But EVERYONE is going!” I remember hearing people labelled ‘loner’ in school, and was desperate not to be one. I hadn’t yet achieved the calm assurance that my parents had. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t see it as the world-ending punishment that I did. I didn’t know that it was part of the ‘maturity’ package deal. As teens, we’re looking to define ourselves by the way we look, talk and interact with our peers. I made the mistake of thinking that I was defined by my social interactions, and worried what the cost of limiting them would be. Luckily, it wasn’t long before I realised this mistake. While I still, on occasion, felt sad when I couldn’t see my friends, it was nothing like the panic I used to feel as thoughts of loner-ism spiralled in my head.

Some of the people I know haven’t been as lucky. I’ve had conversations with people on a night out who can’t tear their eyes away from their friends across the dancefloor, petrified of missing out on a particularly entertaining or important conversation. I’ve noticed how their eyes fix on them, their gaze passes over my shoulder as I try to engage with them. One friend had to excuse himself from watching TV with me to watch a different program with other friends, rejoining me once it had finished. In both circumstances, it was hard not to feel hurt and even harder not to take it to heart. I would equate their absence to a lack of interesting traits on my part. It was only after speaking to people with a genuine interest in talking to me that I realised that I wasn’t the problem.

Spending time alone on my year abroad has made me appreciate my own company. I no longer feel reliant on other people to have fun, knowing that time spent alone can be equally as beneficial. I now know that I need time away from people to rest and recharge. I’ve realised that I am the biggest constant in my life, so making sure that I feel happy with myself is crucial. I am in charge of what I do. Once I came to terms with that, I lost my FOMO completely and started experiencing JOMO: joy of missing out. I started celebrating the time I had to myself, losing myself in a good book, exploring a new city or watching films. I started to embrace new hobbies like painting, making scrapbooks and shooting short videos. I’ve learned to enjoy being a part-time loner.

A benefit of JOMO is that I don’t feel like I’m spreading myself too thin. As human beings, we are cruelly limited in our physical capacities, meaning that we have no choice but to accept our limits. We physically cannot be everywhere at once, attending every party, evening at the pub, dinner, holiday or trip to the toilet. We are also incapable of enjoying every event if we’re only going for the sake of it. Sometimes it’s better to ration our social interactions to ensure that whenever we’re committing ourselves to a social occasion, it’s something we really want. When we spend time working out what we need as individuals, it can help us to feel more present and, ultimately, at peace with ourselves.