From FOMO to JOMO: Why it’s important to disconnect and discover the joy of missing out

Experts recommend leaving the social media rat race, arguing that doing lots of things is not always synonymous with happiness

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Two people use their cell phones in a public space.Mike Kemp (In Pictures via Getty Images)
Clara Angela Brascia

It’s impossible to quantify the amount of content on social media recommending a trendy restaurant, an unmissable, free event or the best places to visit in any city in the world. Every day, there are thousands of new videos, posts and Instagram stories with these types of suggestions, which have been seeking to seduce users of different platforms for years.

This phenomenon has given rise to terms such as FOMO: the fear of missing out. But today more and more people are rebelling against this notion, which studies have shown to be harmful to mental health. This has led to a new trend: JOMO, the joy of missing out.

“We should not be afraid of missing out, but rather enjoy the simplicity and focus that a good human life brings us. No matter what we do, we will always miss something, so trying to do everything is a crazy idea,” explains Svend Brinkmann, who is the author of the book The Joy of Missing Out. The Danish psychologist and philosopher, whose book highlights the importance of getting off social media’s rat race, argues that doing lots of things is not always synonymous with happiness. “A lot of psychological research has shown that people are happier if they have fewer options to choose from. That is what is called the paradox of choice. If we learn to miss out on something, there is a greater chance that we will be happy with what we have, rather than wanting more all the time.”

While the hashtags JOMO (with 54 million views on TikTok) and FOMO (with 880 million) have largely been used to describe society’s dependence on social media, Brinkmann argues that they are “existential” issues that predate technology. “FOMO refers to the need to be where everything is happening, to be experiencing and living to the fullest. It becomes a search that is doomed to failure, because there is always more to see and do,” he explains.

“When we want to fit lots of things into the day that we don’t have time for, we end up feeling anxious, frustrated, guilty for not getting to everything,” explains clinical psychologist Patricia Ramírez. “People who choose JOMO are making a deliberate and conscious decision to not feel like they have to go to everything and that they can lead a full and meaningful life, even though they may not be traveling to every country, or trying every meal in the world, or going to every restaurant, every beautiful corner, and everything that people say you have to visit on social media.”

Content saturation

In this way, videos of people partying at nights at the club before watching the sunrise at the beach are being replaced by people staying home on a Friday night. There are hundreds of videos on TikTok showing scenes of everyday life to the same background music. “Honestly, my most toxic trait is that I don’t have FOMO, I’m happy to miss out on things,” says one woman in a post as she puts her cup of tea on the nightstand and gets ready to read in bed.

“We are living in a moment of self-awareness, in which many people have realized that being constantly connected and trying to emulate what they see online does not make them happy,” says health psychologist Alicia Banderas, who researches the mental health impact of social media. The data proves her point. A 2017 study by the British Royal Society for Public Health shows that four out of five young people say that Instagram makes them feel more anxious.

“That’s why, there are people who decide to disconnect, and who have found in JOMO a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the social media,” explains Banderas. However, the psychologist also warns against the rise of self-help videos that tell viewers to embrace JOMO, while showing dazzling apartments and expensive coffee-making machines. “This also ends up becoming a fashion, although the initial idea was precisely to move away from that in search of simplicity.”

But Patricia Ramírez doesn’t see the contradiction in JOMO being a social media trend. “Practicing JOMO does not mean that we stop using social networks, but rather filter content to find only what really interests us, instead of consuming everything indiscriminately. What’s more, right now social media has become one of the largest channels of information. It’s normal to find out about these trends on Instagram or TikTok,” she explains.

The virtue of restriction

Sven Brinkmann highlights that when talking about FOMO, it’s often argued that the desire to do and experience as much as possible is inherent to human nature. “That’s a misconception. For most of human history, we have not lived with this philosophy of more and more. Rather, restricting oneself was a virtue. It is something we see in most philosophical and religious ideas around the world. However, with the arrival of the consumer society, this was reversed, and people were taught that the meaning of life is to consume as much as possible,” Brinkmann counters.

Despite this saturation of content, experts agree that in most cases FOMO is a passing stage, which almost automatically leaves room for its positive counterpart. “There comes an age, with maturity, when you have the capacity to decide what you want or don’t want in your life: what values are important. And that’s when you think that it’s okay to miss out on things and that you’ll even enjoy knowing that you’ve decided to give up the effort and that you’re not going to achieve everything. Just reaching this conclusion makes us feel more relaxed,” says Ramírez.

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