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50 Shades of FOMO

FOMO. Fear of missing out. There’s a lot of it about - especially during lockdown - and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.


Some fear is felt on behalf of others. Parents and grandparents worry about what effects prolonged absence from nursery, school and university will have on their children. They are right to be worried. It is impossible to tell just now what those effects beyond the purely academic ones will be. There will certainly be social and emotional ramifications and, for some, those will be long-lasting.


People wonder about the effects on elderly relatives of missing out on the opportunity to see their loved ones. They worry that those same relatives may miss out on medical appointments which might allow them to live.


There is the fear for others and ourselves of developing mental health problems because of the absence of social contact. There is anxiety about people’s mental health which is well-known to suffer from incomplete opportunities for closure and the inadequate bereavement rites offered by closely regulated funerals.


Grandparents fear that they are missing out on those golden moments of their grandchildren’s early childhood which can never be recaptured. Some people are missing out on unique career opportunities. The list goes on. The pandemic is depriving us all of life-changing and life-enhancing moments and some of them will never come again. Let’s be clear: many of these losses are deep and painful.


But these significant fears shade into less lamentable losses. There is the current loss of freedom to go to the pub or eat out in a restaurant. While it may be the company we need and hanker after, in some cases we have come to see such a lifestyle as our right. Some of us will fear missing out on the opportunity to go abroad for some summer sun or a foreign adventure forgetting that it is only a couple of generations since only a tiny majority had the opportunities we have. All these things and others that we have learned to take for granted are enjoyable. Maybe we, in the west, have come to take them for granted.


The importance of some shades of FOMO can be exaggerated. FOMO can stem from the belief that happiness lies in having what you want and what you have a right to. If this is denied, then happiness eludes you. Maybe there is some truth in the old saying: happiness lies in wanting what you have.


Perhaps that is one of the gifts that the pandemic has offered us -the chance to focus on what is close at hand – the chance to slow down and notice what we ordinarily would pass by in our hurry to get on to the next thing. We may notice in a different way the birds around our house or apartment. Colour, flight, song. It may be previously unnoticed architecture. Maybe people walking with their dogs – that come in all sorts of styles – both the people and the dogs!


We may have had the opportunity to get to know those people who live immediately around us rather than confine ourselves to the group of people we normally prefer. We may have known the surprising small pleasure of helping someone less fortunate or less able-bodied than ourselves.


Perhaps this year of deprivation could teach us that people who accept that they inevitably miss out on very much in life are happier than those who have much more but still worry about all that they are missing.


Time to dust off our FOMO and see its shades for what they may be.

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