Or, the key to unhappiness…
We usually put the best of ourselves and our lives out on social media. We talk about how amazing our spouse is, how cute our kids are, personal accomplishments, a delicious meal we cooked (or ordered), stunning vacation pictures. And none of this is necessarily wrong—most people wouldn’t like to follow people who are super negative or just plain boring all of the time.
But we also know that what we’re showing are the most exciting bits of our life, our personal “highlight reel”. That the mundane, overwhelming, and embarrassing parts of our life aren’t public.
We rarely trumpet that we’re stuck in traffic, sitting in a meeting, vegging on the couch, rocking a colicky baby in the middle of the night, the disaster of a kitchen after cooking, seething after an argument with your spouse, having to discipline your kid in the middle of a crowded grocery store, feeling like a failure because you messed up at work.
Though this is the majority of most people’s day, most of us don’t post about these things. And the funny thing is, we know this about ourselves. But our brains are a mysterious thing. Somehow we can then look at everyone else’s social media life and forget that it is also a carefully curated museum of the best of their lives as well. And in forgetting, we allow feelings of discontent to nestle into our brains and hearts.
A couple things happen as a result of this. First, we tend to be concerned with making our lives *appear* amazing or glamorous. And second, we tend to look at other people’s lives from the outside and unintentionally use that as a measuring stick for ourselves.
Living that FOMO life
There’s a condition that’s endemic to today’s technology-obsessed society. It’s been dubbed “FOMO”—the “fear of missing out”. And while FOMO has become slang that the younger generation casually drop in conversation for fun, it’s actually a much more pervasive aspect of our human nature that’s amplified by technology, and has the potential to derail our faith.
The official definition of FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website”. At its heart it’s ultimately a fear of being insignificant or forgotten, excluded, or not “in the know”.
And as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there’s nothing new under the sun. Adam and Eve were the original victims of FOMO…and look where that got them. Satan played on the natural human tendency to want to be “in the know”, and insinuated that God was holding out on them by not allowing them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
One of the reasons FOMO is so effective on us is that our carnal nature is constantly trying to convince us that things other than God and His way can satisfy us. That if we just get the right job, find the right spouse, have enough money, lose those last 10 pounds, are more successful than our friends, get our kids into the right school, etc., that we’ll be happy. And none of those things are, in and of themselves, wrong. But what’s driving us to seek them often can be.
Where FOMO leads us
When we let FOMO control us, it allows triggers of pride, fear, jealousy, vanity, doubt, and more to drive the decisions we make or the things we prioritize. Here are a few of the places we can end up as a result.
A life filled to the brim with distractions
Ask anybody how they’re doing, and at least 90% will say “busy”. We say “yes” to too many things, cram our waking hours as full as we can. Things like prayer, bible study, meditation, quiet time, and quality time with the people we love fall by the wayside.
We never just sit and let our brains wander. We pick up our phone and swipe it open without even thinking of it, without a specific need or goal in mind. It is mindless. We overextend ourselves. And it doesn’t make us happier. We feel more stressed, anxious, isolated, restless. The need to not miss out fuels this. Andy Stanley has an awesome series called “Breathing Room” that addresses this tendency, which I highly recommend.
King Solomon was intimately familiar with this. The entire book of Ecclesiastes is about his pursuit of “everything under the sun”, and after seeking great accomplishments, hard work, fun and frivolity, and more, he eventually declared it all ephemeral (vanity, nothingness) and re-grounded in seeking God as the only thing that will satisfy man’s needs.
Not being fully present in our lives
The phrase that comes to mind here is “must be present to win”. If we’re always looking around for what might be better, we’re never truly present in the moment—with people, in our jobs or relationships. It means we’re worse at all those things, and it also prevents us from being content or happy.
Fear of failure
Fear that our failures will be made public can cause us to avoid doing anything at all (like the wicked servant in the parable of the talents). It may show up in our lives as not being authentic and open with the people in our lives or with God—only sharing the good things, pretending everything’s great.
We might sweep things under the rug or bury them internally rather than acknowledging them, or just not even try because we don’t think what we do can live up to what we see in other people’s lives.
Intransigence or lack of commitment
We keep our options open waiting for something better, or change our minds and plans frequently. In some people, FOMO can manifest as being afraid that they’ll miss out on something amazing, so they end up not committing at all. It’s disrespectful when we do this to the people in our lives, and it’s disrespectful when we do this in our relationship with God.
This can be seen in a person feeling pulled away from God’s way toward the things in the world (activities, a potential spouse or friends, job opportunities) or in giving lip-service to following God’s way but never getting baptized. Deep down, a person feels they might be missing out on something better than what they have, and so they never actually commit. This person is one of the types that Paul calls double-minded and unstable (James 1:8).
We see other people’s (supposedly) amazing lives, vacations, well-behaved children, etc. and covet those things or aspects of their lives. Envy takes root in our hearts and “rots the bones”—basically corrodes us from the inside-out (Prov. 14:30). When we allow ourselves to think on these types of things, our brains and carnal nature warp until we’re eventually thinking about how easy they have it, how they don’t deserve, etc.
Envy drives us to think negatives thoughts and over time can allow bitterness to seep in. It’s honestly fascinating to watch in myself sometimes if I’m not being careful. This cycle brings to mind the words of Jesus when He told the disciples “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
Read next: The Pursuit of Happiness: Joy in the Bible
How to combat FOMO in our lives
So if FOMO is a fundamental part of human nature, what can we do about it? Obviously the answer is going to depend a bit on each person’s specific mind and personality, but here are a few things to think about if you’re beginning to recognize some FOMO at work in your life.
- Mindfulness: Identify and acknowledge. One of the most important things is simply recognizing that it’s happening, and calling it what it is. Our tendency is to try and explain it away, call it a gentler or more positive name, or justify why the feelings are actually positive. We’re always better when we can look a fault right in the eye and own that we are the cause.
- Find your triggers: “Fast” from the things that trigger your FOMO. Whether it’s your phone, certain media (TV show, ads, whatever), certain people, etc. Remove yourself from it for a while to break the cycle.
- Look outward: FOMO is all about “me”, our personal needs and insecurities, and how we believe others perceive us. A way to combat that is to actively look for others’ needs you can fill. In other words, consciously look outward in a positive way rather than comparing to your own life.
- Choose contentment: Contentment is a strong antidote to FOMO, and make no mistake—feeling content is a choice. It’s also one that is much easier to make and maintain if we’re staying close to God and asking for His help. Paul wrote, “I’ve learned in whatever state I am to be content”. And he’d been through…a lot. What was his secret?? Ultimately he knew that he could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). King Solomon’s take on contentment was both practical and poetic, telling the reader that despite all their striving, “better one hand with tranquility than both hands grasping at the wind” (Eccl. 4:6).
If we’re talking about fear (as in, the fear of missing out), then it’s appropriate to ask what the opposite of fear is—what cancels it out? And I propose that love is actually the opposite of fear. We wrote a deeper study on how fear and love can’t coexist a few years ago and it’s worth digging into as you think about how FOMO can impact us…but it highlights how fear is a symptom of a larger problem in our lives, and at odds with what God’s spirit is supposed to be producing in us.
In Psalms 16, King David is meditating on the idea of trust and what that produces in us. In my NKJV it says “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot” (Ps. 16:5). But this translation kind of obscures the deeper meaning of this verse behind formal old time-y language. To paraphrase, what David is saying is, “The Lord is (or appoints) my portion and my cup; He makes my lot secure”.
FOMO is fueled by—and continues to feed—insecurity, and we have to remember that God appoints our lot in this life and it is only in relationship with Him that we can feel truly secure.