In New in Town, John Mulaney’s first Netflix special, he jokes that, “In terms of, like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin. It’s an amazing feeling. Such instant joy.”
The bit originally aired in 2012, but was ahead of its time in acknowledging the antidote to the nagging, seemingly inescapable fear of missing out, or FOMO. Because let’s admit it: Missing out feels great.
As a therapist who specializes in treating adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Billy Roberts has helped many clients cope with the anxiety and self-esteem issues related to FOMO. But unlike heroin, Roberts has found that the joy of missing out, or JOMO, is actually a marker for improved mental health. “When I start to see folks experience the joy of missing out, it’s usually when they recognize their ability to live life in their own lane,” Roberts says.
The term JOMO out was coined by blogger and tech CEO Anil Dash in a post about how he related less to FOMO since becoming a parent. “I’d been mostly offline for more than a month, and during that time had barely checked in on anything online, and seldom even left the house. It was wonderful,” Dash wrote in July of 2012 (months after the Mulaney special). “So the FOMO lament didn’t particularly resonate with me; I wasn’t missing anything. I hadn’t realized that I was not only not in fear, but actually in a state of joy.”
JOMO received a lot of attention during the summer of 2012, but usage trickled off until recently. Over the past two years, though, we’ve seen a resurgence of JOMO, mostly in meme form, a trend that psychotherapist Erica Cramer attributes to a healthy perspective gained from a temporary time without FOMO. “Prior to the pandemic, many people felt obligated to accept every invitation that came their way, regardless of if it was something they were actually interested in doing,” Cramer says. “Having a legitimate excuse not to attend certain events, helped people practice more effectively asserting themselves.”
Experts often talk about setting boundaries as a practice that’s essential for health and happiness. But in less clinical terms, it just means giving yourself permission to not feel obligated to do something you don’t want to. “This is a somewhat novel concept for most people,” Cramer explains. “Most of us have been programmed to accept invitations without really thinking about if it’s something we actually want to do or even in our best interest.”
Likewise, a lot of people who are outgoing might have assumed they were extroverts before the pandemic, but learned in quarantine that they’re more of an ambivert, or someone who gets energy from social interactions but also needs alone time to recharge. “As is the case with everything in life, balance is critical,” Cramer says.
Per Google Trends, searches for JOMO peaked at both the beginning of the pandemic and at the end of “hot vax summer” (when so many of us were socially overextended and mentally exhausted), which could mean that we’re still searching for that delicate JOMO balance.
Even if JOMO is generally seen as an unexpected positive byproduct of quarantine, it’s important to note that the pandemic also came with a lot of uncertainty, grief and anxiety. Cramer acknowledges that JOMO may give people who are dealing with these issues an excuse to isolate, which could further compromise their mental health in the long-term. “Some people have become so complacent staying at home in their pajamas all day and no longer have the motivation to engage with the outside world,” Cramer explains.
The best way to tell the difference between isolation and JOMO is inherent in the name: Is there joy involved? “When you find yourself committing to nothing, you should re-evaluate your priorities and think of activities that you’d actually enjoy doing,” Cramer explains. “If you cannot think of any, that’s an issue.”
At the same time, there’s evidence that FOMO had been causing anxiety and depressive symptoms in people long before the pandemic. In a review of literature on the topic, researchers warned that FOMO in the long-term “leads the individual to feel a deeper sense of social inferiority, loneliness or intense rage.” FOMO is an experience largely manufactured by social media, and one that can appear back in your life as quickly as you can fire up your smartphone.
That’s why JOMO is important — it’s not about shutting out human connection, but figuring out what genuinely brought you joy before the doom-scrolling and Instagram posting became such a constant part of your life. “Once we can declutter our minds by letting that anxiety go, we can be more intentional about being present in our particular moment,” says Roberts. From there, “we can find ways to l find joy right now, while reducing the fear of missing out.”
So go ahead and cancel those drinks, bail on that party or decline that invite. But if you’re just doing it to post JOMO memes and hang out online, you’re probably missing the point — and a lot more.