The Opposite of FOMO Isn’t Happiness
If you want a better life, stop chasing happiness and learn how to find contentment
Technology critics and wellness gurus all teach the dangers of giving into the fear of missing out (FOMO). When you act out of this fear you compromise your values, you make poor decisions, and you end up feeling exhausted and empty.
It’s like trying to treat dehydration with soda — you’re only making the problem worse.
Often these experts speak of happiness as the opposite of FOMO. But, happiness is just as transient an experience as FOMO.
The true opposite of FOMO is contentment, and if you want to live a better life, you must learn how to find and cultivate it. Just like love and lust are not the same thing; neither are happiness and joy.
Lust and happiness can both be intoxicating, and helpful as part of a fulfilling life. But, a life filled with lust and not love, or happiness and not joy, will leave you seeking for more and leave you deeply unsatisfied.
If FOMO is wanting to have more of something mysterious, contentment is knowing what you have and being satisfied with it. Contentment is understanding that you have enough.
My brain is broken.
I have anxiety. I’m also fat. One of the reasons I’m fat is that I’ve forgotten what enough means when it comes to food. I no longer notice my body’s signals that the quantity of food I have consumed is adequate for my nutritional needs. Instead, I crave more.
I love the tastes and textures of different foods. I enjoy the smells of all of the dishes at dinner. When I’m eating especially good pizza, I don’t stop at two or even three pieces. Two pieces of pizza would be enough, but I keep going until I’ve had five or more. I don’t stop until I feel sick.
I have a fear of missing out on the sensation of eating the pizza.
FOMO works the same way for you concerning at least one aspect of your life. It may be money, growing your online reputation, shopping, travel, sex, or almost any other human activity. You may even feel happy while you’re seeking to feed your FOMO.
I’m never happier than I am with a delicious meal. But, that happiness is easy to corrupt into gluttony. Even if I don’t overindulge, the happiness will still fade.
Just like there’s nothing wrong with lusting after your partner’s body, there’s nothing wrong with seeking happiness from amusement parks, sports, shopping, or friends and family. But, before you never feel complete, you always need more. You need more than lust, you need more than happiness.
FOMO is about chasing the easy emotions. For most of us, it’s easy to have some fun. But, these emotions quickly fade. The true danger of FOMO is it puts on you a hamster wheel. No matter how fast you run, you can never get enough of whatever it is you’re seeking.
Learning to Have Enough
Contentment breaks this vicious cycle. Instead of seeking to fill up on the easy emotions, we learn to collect the more difficult emotions. Love is harder to develop than lust and takes more emotional maintenance. Joy takes years of sustained effort to grow.
Freeing ourselves from FOMO and allowing ourselves to enjoy what we already have is liberating.
It’s also a subversive act. You are opting out of the gamification of life. Being content means that you are no longer competing with anyone else. You don’t need a bigger house, a better vacation, or more followers.
The problem is we are all dopamine junkies. Your brain may not be broken like mine is. You may be able to recognize when you’ve had enough pizza.
But, do you recognize when you’ve had enough screen time? Enough money? Enough success?
Our society trains us always to want and to seek more. It’s a suicide pact. It feeds everything from resource hoarding to climate change. It makes us angrier, selfish, and lonely.
How you can you give anything to anyone else if you can’t recognize when you have enough? Instead, you will consume more and more.
I’m not advocating becoming a monk on a mountainside.
Instead, I’m suggesting something more radical — continue to live as part of the consumer society without succumbing to it.
A Life of Radical Contentment
Take a stand by deciding you have enough and start giving instead of taking.
Enjoy what you have instead of killing yourself to get more.
This can apply to every area of your life.
There is power in discovering you have enough of something. I learned last year that when I stopped chasing the six-figure phantom, I felt less stress, enjoyed my work more, and I enjoyed the time I spent with my family. I was able to be more present in the lives of my wife and children. I felt at peace.
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I’m still learning how to cultivate contentment in every area of my life. But, with each step I take, the quality of my life improves.
The argument against contentment is that you will stagnate. But, contentment is not complacency. I can both be content with who I am and believe that I can improve. A life of contentment should be dynamic, but not mindlessly so.
You don’t need to accumulate and advance simply for the sake of having more. Instead, you can work to create enough for you and yours and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. You can learn to help others gain the resources and success they need.
If you are worn out from an obstacle course filled with alerts, life hacks, productivity practices, and endless goals, you are not alone. There is another way to live. You don’t have to chase happiness. You can learn to find joy in the phase of life you’re in. You can learn to have enough.
Do you have what it takes to live a life of radical contentment?
Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.