“I wanna watch a movie,” Huckleberry Finn screamed at me yesterday, in exasperation. “But I don’t have enough!”
It was a snowy day, I was preparing lunch, we had been homebound all day, and I was losing my mind. A movie sounded like a fabulous idea. I was confused by Huck’s proclamation of not having enough movies, though. We had just been to the library and he had picked out three DVDs, all of which were unwatched.
“Honey, what do you mean?” I asked, and I looked at his pile of DVDs. “You have all the DVDs from the library, plus you can choose any of the ones your brother picked out, or any of the ones we have here at home. Or we can check Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or we can find something on TV. What do you think, buddy?”
Huck proceeded to take his pile of DVDs and carefully spread them out in a line on the floor. He looked up at me with big, sad eyes, and said again, “I wanna watch a movie, Mommy. But we don’t have enough. We need to go to the library to get more.”
There were nine DVDs in front of him. There were two dozen DVDs in the basket to his right. There were a few dozen more in my office around the corner. We had saved and bookmarked at least 50 movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and there were a gazillion kids’ programs and movies available On Demand on our TV. Huck knew his options. He was drowning in options. What did he mean, there weren’t enough?
Then I was struck by a thought. When we visit the library, there are hundreds of DVDs on the shelves of the children’s section. They are stacked five rows high and span at least 25 feet in length. He had four “Thomas the Tank Engine” DVDs in front of him, but the library had at least 40 more. Little Huck was afraid he was missing out on a better, more exciting, more thrilling DVD. The ones in his little hands just simply didn’t compare.
Huck’s problem was not that he didn’t have enough. Huck’s problem was that he had seen all the other ones, and he wouldn’t be happy unless he had them all.
My little 4-year-old was clearly suffering from a syndrome I thought only happened to adults – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Fear of Missing Out is defined as:
…‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’.
FOMO is pervasive and stressful, causing an individual angst even when they are occupied with a pleasurable activity. It can lead to low self-esteem, high anxiety and low life satisfaction. It’s not a good thing. And my 4-year-old seems to be showing signs of it.
I often feel the effects of FOMO in my life. Often, in the midst of something fun and joyous, I catch myself wondering whether I’m doing the best thing I could possibly be doing at that moment. My mind drifts to other possibilities. I may even check social media later to see what was happening, and whether or not I truly missed out on something or not, I feel a tiny bit unsatisfied. I have felt FOMO when:
- I was out to dinner with Lancelot and missed out on a Girls’ Night Out
- I was on a Girls’ Night Out and missed Lancelot
- I spent an hour shopping instead of doing yoga, and my body felt tense and sore
- I watched Top Chef after the kids went to bed, finding out who was eliminated last week but not quite finishing the book I had to return to the library the next day
- I added 126 audio books to my “favorites” on Hoopla but spent a week waffling on the first one to listen to so settled for talk radio for seven days until I figured something out
- I tried on seven outfits before a family dinner and ended up in jeans and an old sweater, mentally picturing my closet and the left-behind items throughout the whole dinner
We live in an abundant world, and we are blessed to live in an era where anything is possible. With this freedom also comes a Pandora’s box full of anxiety, though. We are all too aware of what happens in our absence when we decide on a social engagement, because we are reminded through Facebook and Instagram how much fun everyone had at the event we didn’t go to. The movies and TV shows we choose to save for later remain in our heads, because they are saved on our DVRs. The books we haven’t read yet are in the back of our minds while we are reading the book in our hands.
We have the means and ability to do anything, but we lack the capability to do everything. And that can be very stressful, indeed.
With all those DVDs laid out in front of Huck Finn, it was suddenly obvious to me that we had had those DVDs for five days and had yet to watch a single one. We also hadn’t turned on the TV (except to watch some playoff football games). Huck had been playing with the DVDs – he had been piling them on top of each other, laying them side-by-side, counting them, looking at the pictures on the sleeves and even bringing them to bed with him. But he had not watched a single minute of a single DVD. He was drowning in choices, and suffocating from the vision of all those DVDs in pretty rows at the library. It was all too much.
It’s my job as Huck’s mom to help make the world a little smaller for him, and that may mean that we skip the DVD aisle at the library for a while. Whatever I decide to do to help my little man, I know for sure that simplification is the key. Huck needs fewer choices so his freedom of choice can flourish. He needs less so he can experience more. It’s my job to help him with this now.
It’s also my job as a human to take responsibility for my own choices. FOMO doesn’t add anything of value to my experience of life; it simply robs me of the joy of living my life. I need to simplify my own life, embrace my choices confidently, and live mindfully in each moment of my choosing as completely as I can.
Just like Huck, I feel “less than” when I have too much, and that makes me feel I’m not good enough. It’s clear that some “stuff” needs to go.