- anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
When I was a child it was commonplace for people of my parents' generation to have a showcase (vitrine) in their house in which souvenirs from travels and special occasions were displayed. Everything from miniatures of famous landmarks once visited to wedding cake toppers. I was mesmerised by these memories encased in glass. Each item marked an event special enough to be preserved and enshrined.
Though it took me longer than many to begin to explore what the world has to offer, when I finally did, I instinctively began collecting souvenirs. You may look at my collection of miniatures of some of the world’s greatest landmarks I’ve visited and think that I’m well travelled, but actually it has taken decades to accumulate. It was not a hungry accumulation. It was not a feverish consumption. It was slow and mindful and each step was carefully considered and deeply appreciated. Similarly I could list the various things I’ve done and achieved and it may sound to some like I am fairly accomplished. But again, each of these steps was taken slowly and mindfully and with careful consideration.
In between each of these souvenir moments were long periods of ordinariness and even banality. Before the rise of social media, the anxiety I felt to “get more out of my life” was mostly limited to things I’d see on tv or in magazines, or friends’ stories and photographs shared with me in person. To be sure, FOMO did exist back then, but it was more subtle. Even so I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that there is no rush and that one day I’d look back and know that I have done enough and that all along I was enough. I’d explain that taking slow, measured and mindful steps would not leave me feeling like I’d wasted precious time, and that memories do not have to be abundant to make one feel abundant.
I cannot help but notice that nowadays people seem to be scrambling around at high speed trying to cram as many activities and experiences into their lives as possible. One or two social engagements a week no longer seems to be enough. It seems to be necessary to stuff each year full of parties and travels and seminars etc. When someone professes, “I’ll rest when I’m dead”, I have to resist the urge to say, “Without rest this may be sooner than you think”.
It would be naive to believe that the rise of social media has not contributed to this rapidly growing anxiety. We are confronted daily with airbrushed glamour shots of our friends’ latest achievements, parties, holidays and gourmet dinners. It’s enough to start to believe that you have slipped into some frustrating parallel universe where everyone else seems to enjoy 72 hour days and 1095 day years, while you are still stuck with only 24 hour days and 365 day years, and where 8 hours sleep is still required each day. Fear of missing out seems to be driving us into frantic activity or making us feel anxious that we are not doing enough or not being enough. Don’t get me wrong, FOMO is not always a bad thing, sometimes it can motivate us to reach for something new at a time when we needed inspiration or motivation. But I think it more often generates a dangerous undercurrent of dissatisfaction.
This chronic not-enoughness seems to be consuming us and leaving us feeling small and insignificant and wasteful, when nothing can be further from the truth. We have forgotten how to be still and savour the moments of our lives, both the small daily moments and the grand souvenir moments.
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s feet and listening to her tell magnificent stories from her life. There were not thousands of stories, or even hundreds, but each story was told with such joy and such vivid detail that I was transfixed. I wonder if we’ll be able to give our grandchildren the same gift or if our life stories will be nothing more than a blur of feverish activity where we did not take the time to honour the truly special moments or breaks in between to absorb and appreciate them.
Perhaps this new year our resolutions should include more time to rest and more space for contemplation. Perhaps through this fear of missing out, what we are actually missing out on is the stillness within us where true abundance resides.