I’m lookin’ for my mission’ piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin’ for my missing’ piece.”
from The Missing Piece
written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein
Some of us are content, full of gratitude for our ability to wonder, to think of new ideas, to spend precious time with our friends and family. But, humans are seekers. We seek patterns of predictability. We seek comfort in familiarity. We seek excitement in something new.
Research funded by the National Science Foundation has shown that variety in daily experience improves [a person’s] mood and how the brain generates that improvement. People who have many different experiences in a day say they are happier, more attentive, stronger, more relaxed, and more excited.
While we all fall somewhere on a continuum that defines our desire for predictability and routine on one hand, and serendipity and surprise on the other, most of us thrive when our experiences blend the two extremes to land us in the center.
It is when we wish for some new thing all the time, or over-schedule ourselves so we can take advantage of all (or most) experiences near and far, that we end up exhausted, depleted, and depressed. We feel left out, socially inferior, and second-guess ourselves about whether we are doing enough.
While not currently a diagnosable condition, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is real. It can disrupt our ability to make good decisions, interfere with our ability to concentrate, and leave us feeling sad, tired, and lonely.
A lot of FOMO comes from viewing our friends’ photos of their exciting vacation, (and wishing we could be there, too) finding out we missed a “great sale” at our favorite store, not being able to contribute (or even understand) the “office talk” about a current TV show or popular music group or sports team or generally anything that fosters our feeling of being left out.
We humans need to feel we belong. It is fundamental to our sense of well-being. But we can’t belong to everything. We can’t choose every event or cause or opportunity that sounds interesting, fun, or important in our limited time on Earth. And that, according to Patrick McGinnis (who coined the term FOMO back in 2004) is the crux of the problem. More than fear of missing out or even fear of better options (FOBO), he attributes the inability to make choices, especially between good options, to a fear of letting go. After all, when we choose one thing, everything else is left UN-chosen.
Decision-making is difficult. Making the “right” decision can be anxiety-fraught, especially when the decision is an important one. Many factors influence our choices. We weigh our biases. We consider our memories. We balance the emotional “cost” of the decision with the expected consequences. And a lot of the time we’re unaware of all these internal goings-on.
Life is a balancing act. Just like the main character in Shel Silverstein’s book quoted above, sometimes the “search” is as rewarding as the “find.”
Even those of us who enjoy our own company need other people who share our interests, values, and memories (or want to build some new ones). They are our people, our peeps.
I just finished reading The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni (Lake Union Publishing, 2018). It’s the journey to self-acceptance told through flash-backs and present time by an eye-doctor who overcame intolerance, bullying, and a Catholic education. The balance between plot and character development makes this one truly extraordinary. Recommended
-—stay curious! (and find your peeps)