Choosing a life of less puts an end to always wanting more.
I was on a run earlier, and I did something so typical for me. I really wanted to listen to some upbeat music, but also to a podcast about writing. Unable to decide, torn between the benefits of both, I literally went from one to the other, pressing play on each of them, in turn, every thirty seconds for a few minutes.
Then, over all of that, I heard the birds singing.
I was in a beautiful place, on a quiet footpath by a river, surrounded by trees. The only sounds were the birds and ducks skimming across the surface of the water.
I took my phone, and turned off both my podcast and my playlist, and just listened to the world around me instead.
And you know what? I didn’t miss either.
I have always had terrible FOMO — meaning, fear of missing out. The term is often used to designate that feeling of dissatisfaction and insufficiency we get when we see other people’s lives on social media, and while that is definitely a contributing factor, my FOMO is of a more general kind. I can never leave a party before the end, just in case something crazy happens just after I’ve gone. For my entire first year of college, I slept about four hours a night because I didn’t want to miss a single opportunity to socialise. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer, a doctor, a vet, a writer, an artist, an environmentalist, a biologist, a physicist, an actress … I wanted to be everything. I chose to be a journalist partly so that I could get a little glimpse of everything else.
I never knew how to deal with my FOMO, until a few years ago, when I spent a couple of weeks in the middle of a forest, cut off from the world in the Himalaya, at a Rainbow Festival. These are gatherings of hippies in very remote places. There are no concerts, and the only things there is to do are the things people decide they want to do. Dance and talk and build huts and sing.
There, at last, I no longer felt like I was missing out on anything. I felt like instead of running after experiences to be consumed in everyday life, I was instead in an incredible place where creativity and imagination opened up opportunities, and each one was something that we were lucky to have and should be enjoyed to the full.
Out there, in the middle of nature, you would have thought I would have felt like I was missing out on everything, what with a whole world happening elsewhere, and me up those mountains, unmoved by the world’s movements beyond. But I just felt an amazing feeling, like I was where I was supposed to be.
Living out in nature for a long period of time really helps with FOMO. It cuts you off from social media and the habit we have of comparing ourselves to everyone else’s highly idealised images of their lives. It cuts you off from towns with a million and one opportunities, an overwhelming amount of pleasures to be had, which ends up meaning you can’t take any.
Plus, after a while, I even started to question whether or not FOMO is even really a thing.
Maybe it is just our instinct telling us we are not OK, in a clumsy way. Because as soon as I was in a place where my mind breathed out and whispered in my ear “Yep, this is exactly where you should be right now,” I stopped feeling like I was missing out on anything else. I didn’t think about being anywhere else at all.
Our instincts are smart, the problem is they often get blurred by our modern day lives. Consumerism and Social Media, with their constant sources of instant gratification, make us look for notifications and quick highs rather than things that are good for us in the long run. It is a bit like when you eat lots of sweets: you crave more because it gives your brain a quick hit of sugary drug, and it completely derails your appetite and the messages your body cleverly sends you about what it needs.
The world is a sweet shop, and FOMO is the feeling a kid has when he sees all the jars of sweets and wants to eat every single one, even if they make him sick. Out in nature, you step out of the Sweet Shop. You leave those sugar cravings behind, and finally, your body feels fed.