Someone you know from college just got married and posted a small library worth of pictures from their wedding and reception on Facebook. Another traveled to some exotic foreign land. Parties and festivities were partaken in. Brian is now in a relationship. Lisa got a new job. Facebook statuses have assured us that John and Laura are simply elated with how great their life is. And of course, it would appear that every woman I’ve ever met that has had a baby has posted about 10,000 pictures of said child.
And all of this is just further proof that you are a complete loser.
I mean honestly, what are you even doing with your life?
This all represents “FoMo” or the Fear of Missing Out. As Wikipedia describes it, FoMo is the “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” Of course, it’s mostly just a matter of perception. You are not seeing the average number of notable events your friends are having, instead you are constantly being shown the outliers thus causing a distorted view of the amount of fun and awesomeness your friends are experiencing.
And of course this goes for material things as well. The desire to keep up with the Jones’ or show how awesome you are by buying more stuff is about as shallow as it seems. And while studies have found that the amount of income you have has almost no effect on your level of happiness after reaching about $50,000 a year, that hasn’t stopped Americans from trying to buy it. For example, the average U.S. household had over $15,000 in credit card debt in 2014
The fear that someone has something cooler than you, a better job, a hotter significant other, more exciting experiences, more useful skills, whatever can wreak havoc on just about anyone’s wellbeing.
But pretty much all that Facebook and Twitter do is mask others’ struggles and allow you to see only their best side (be it materially, experientially or otherwise). Indeed, A Stanford study showed that exact thing,
“For all four experiences (feeling really depressed for a day, feeling very lonely on a weekend night, being sad enough about something in their lives that they cried, and feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork or extracurricular activities), students at both universities underestimated peer prevalence… At one university, students estimated that 52% of their peers had felt depressed, 38% had felt lonely, 43% had cried, and 78% had felt overwhelmed by work, whereas respectively 78%, 56%, 66%, and 94% of students reported having actually had each of these four experiences.”
Another study found that too much Facebook (and probably all social media) actually reduces one’s level of life satisfaction,
“These analyses indicated that Facebook use predicts declines in the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment to moment and how satisfied they are with their lives.”
And yet Americans spend an average of 40 minutes a day on Facebook and that doesn’t include Twitter and other social networks. And the same goes for television, which too much exposure to has been associated with depression. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the average American watches almost three hours of TV per day.
Despite the message we get from those televisions we watch too much of, the world has improved greatly in recent decades, yet this has created another (admittedly smaller) problem; namely an overabundance of stuff and choices. Merely just getting by is not enough now that the majority of us don’t worry about where to find our next meal. Nowadays, finding some sort of purpose, or often just being judged positively, is the main goal. It may be no harder to do that than surviving in the past and it certainly isn’t as important, but it is more confusing.
My case is that you will not find purpose or happiness in stuff nor will you in media of the old fashioned or 2.0 variety. Furthermore, the more you partake in these things, the more you will look for “purpose” in the fickle and unreliable opinions of others. These things will just make you spin faster and faster on the wheel in the rat race and make you feel more and more like you are missing out.
While I have no interest in returning to the harsh lives of our ancestors, we can choose to simplify our own modern lives. Instead of worrying about who is doing something that we’re not invited too, or overloading ourselves on stuff or media, we can try to focus on a few attainable goals and relationships.
First and foremost, I would stop worrying about “stuff” entirely. If you want to dress nice, fine. Go ahead and dress nice. But for the most part, it should be merely functional as with the rest of the things you own. If you don’t need this toy or that gadget, don’t buy it.
I’ve lived life without a TV for the last five years and have really enjoyed it. Yes, I binge watched Breaking Bad on Netflix, but I haven’t channel surfed once in the last five years. I’ve limited my media consumption to only the things I absolutely want to see the most.
Only of late have I tried to limit my Internet media consumption and it’s much more difficult. But I can see already how important it is. Remember, everything we do means we can’t do something else.
Minimalism in both stuff and media won’t eliminate choice paralysis or FoMO, but it will certainly help. You can’t do everything so there’s no reason to try. Prioritize what are the most important things in your life and who are the most important people in your life and try to focus on those.
As noted above, the average American watches 3 hours of TV a week which amounts to 76,440 hours of television between the time they are born and the time they reach the age of 70. Many social scientists believe in the 10,000 hour rule; namely that it takes 10,000 hours of effort to master something. So in the time that the normal person watches TV, they could have instead mastered seven different skills and be halfway to the eighth!
Cut out the clutter, unplug the TV, reduce your time on social media and focus on what is of primary importance to you. Or to make it short and pithy; embrace minimalism.