In the earliest days of the pandemic, when shutdowns had started to roll out across the country, but the gravity of COVID hadn’t quite set in, the sudden and absolute clearing of our calendars came with a little thrill. Goodbye, totally unnecessary work event! No, thank you, third night-in-a-row of dinner out! Hello, first night to yourself in weeks!
Finally, we were all doing that thing we typically only secretly longed to do or joked about in Instagram memes — we were canceling plans.
Meet the Experts
Patrick McGinnis is the author of Fear of Missing Out: Decision Making in a World of Overwhelming Choice and host of the podcast FOMO Sapiens.
Tanya Dalton is the author of The Joy of Missing Out.
From FOMO to JOMO
Canceled plans began as one of our greatest fears. FOMO — the fear of missing out — ruled our social lives. “FOMO is the anxiety, often provoked by social media, that there’s something better out there than what you’re doing right now combined with a fear of being excluded from a beneficial collective experience,” says Patrick McGinnis, author of Fear of Missing Out: Decision Making in a World of Overwhelming Choice and host of the podcast FOMO Sapiens.
Soon after McGinnis coined the term FOMO, “JOMO,” or the joy of missing out, entered the chat. “It’s the idea that you don’t care what other people are doing and you don’t care if you’re included in the crowd,” he says.
For many of us, the pandemic allowed us to finally allow ourselves to admit that we wanted to slow down, that our FOMO had, in fact, turned into JOMO. “Having that very intentional pause of the pandemic made a huge difference — it showed us what was possible,” says Tanya Dalton, author of The Joy of Missing Out.
Even McGinnis, king of FOMO, felt the shift. “I remember reading on Twitter people said that FOMO died of the coronavirus. And I was like, that’s true!” he says. “Here I am, the world’s first FOMO sapiens, sitting in my apartment cooking and watching Succession and I was pretty happy. It was two-and-a-half weeks of bliss.”
Then the deeper reality of missing out sets in. “I started to realize, ‘Oh, I guess that summer vacation isn’t gonna happen. Oh, Easter’s coming, I guess I can’t see the family,’” McGinnis says. We missed a lot that we didn’t want to: Travel restrictions and quarantines stole our ability to attend weddings, births, funerals. We’ve missed hugs and vacations and the simple joy of being able to be in a room with the communities we love most. But missing those things has made it clear what really matters on our overly stuffed calendars. “A lot of times, it’s not until you’re in a crisis that it becomes really clear what your priorities are,” Dalton says. “In my book, I say, ‘Often we don’t know what our priorities are until our boat is sinking.’ And when the pandemic hit, everybody’s boat was sinking. It suddenly became so much easier to let go of the things we no longer wanted to prioritize.”
Why we love missing out
“A lot of times when we’re canceling the plans, it’s because they’re not truly important to us,” says Dalton. Saying no to those things — the perfunctory catch-up with an acquaintance from college, the weirdly obligatory happy hour with your co-workers — feels like a little act of liberation. And we get a boost of endorphins that comes with it, Dalton says. “I think the reason canceling plans feels so good is because FOMO reflects a lack of agency in our lives,” adds McGinnis. “We are not making decisions, we are not driving the car — the car is being driven by other people. When we ignore that and do what we actually want to do, we are taking control, and it feels really good.”
This newfound confidence in saying no and prioritizing the things that are really important to you has been an unexpected silver lining of the pandemic. But why did it take a global shutdown to get us there?
“I think oftentimes we say yes right away out of obligation because we worry about what the other person’s going to think if we say no,” says Dalton. Now officially entering our third pandemic year, that equation of social pressure has changed dramatically. Amidst what’s beginning to feel like a never-ending cycle of new variants and spikes in cases, suggesting plans can sometimes feel like a social faux pas — Would you like to get dinner? Only if you’re comfortable, of course!
Dalton hopes that post-pandemic, the joy of canceling plans — or not making them at all — stays out of the shadows, that we ditch the guilt about prioritizing the things we really want and do away with social obligations we don’t really care about. “When we have joy, when we have happiness, when our cup is filled, we can fill everyone else’s cups,” she says. “We are better able to serve the world around us when we find the joy of missing out because it means that we’re taking care of ourselves.”
Ultimately, both FOMO and JOMO have their place in our social lives, says McGinnis. “JOMO is really good for Friday nights,” he says. Go ahead: Cancel those plans and get the endorphin boost of taking back control. But letting JOMO rule your life is not exactly good for “fulfillment and companionship,” he adds. “Nobody’s like, I feel JOMO about figuring out my purpose in life.”
If your 2022 goal is to make only the type of plans you don’t secretly dream of canceling, think of JOMO as a reality check — a useful way of checking in on your priorities and honoring a practice of self-care. And think of FOMO as a way of understanding the things you really don’t want to miss out on. “It’s about trying to be a bit more factual rather than driven by fears,” McGinnis says. “The second thing is to think about motivation. Am I doing this because I want to do it, or am I doing it because I feel like I want to be part of something? And is that valid? When we do that, that allows us to choose what we actually want.”
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.