Be here now

“I might stay in and study tonight,” remarked a friend of mine recently. “But I’ll probably end up with FOMO and just go out anyway.”

FOMO? Is this some kind of new martial art, I wondered? FOMO, as I learned, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and it has become a very real phenomenon in a generation defined by the vast array of choices constantly available to us.

It was after a chronic bout of a sinking feeling last week that I had to step back and give myself a slap in the face. Living in a new place and attending a new university occasionally heightens this feeling for me, as I constantly remind myself that I am not here forever and so must grasp, with both hands, every opportunity that comes my way. Choosing to have a productive night in can often turn into hours of procrastination as I wonder what I could be doing right now that would be infinitely better than sitting in front of my laptop.

The problem is the potential of the unopened door — the lure of the path not taken.

It’s an itch we’ve all felt. Before Facebook and Twitter, I would jealously wait until the following day to get the details of the event I chose not to attend, berating myself for my choice even though I may have enjoyed what I was actually doing much more than the event I missed. Now, with the advent of social media, the options we didn’t choose and the paths we could have taken are splashed across our laptop screens every time we log into our accounts, dangled before our eyes in the form of photos or tantilising statuses depicting the fun we missed.

Ultimately, it all comes down to an excess of choices. But having multiple options for everything from jean styles to evening plans is a great thing, right? Too much choice has actually been proven to make us more unhappy overall, as psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in his TED talk on the paradox of choice. The ever-increasing number of choices with which we are presented in our daily life overwhelms us, and makes us ultimately less contented with the option we finally do choose as we dwell on the unexplored potential of all our other options.

But I am gradually beginning to learn that thinking about all the things we could possibly be doing while we’re doing the thing we’re actually doing is completely exhausting. It’s a waste of valuable energy we should be expending while trying to stay present, to inhabit the moment we are in. In my theatre major, I have learned that being fully present in the moment while on stage is a core tenet of acting. I am finally realizing that learning to apply this skill in my daily life — learning to be fully present in whatever you are doing at any given moment — is one way to become a happier person.

Perhaps that sounds hopelessly cheesy. Perhaps it is a totally obvious point that is hitting me years after the rest of the world.

It has always been one of the primary teachings of Buddhism — meditation is one way people try to achieve this state of being totally present. And being “present” all the time does not mean that you cannot think about the past or plan for the future, because that would make everyday life very difficult. It just means that you do not worry about the choices you made in the past, because they cannot be changed, and you trust yourself to make the right choices in the future without obsessing over their potential outcomes.

And above all, you don’t waste time stalking your friends on Facebook to see what they’re up to right now or what you could be doing if you’d chosen differently. That’s all much easier said than done. But day by day, I’m gradually discovering how.

Image Source: Franco Bouly under Creative Commons.

Margaret Perry is a blogger for The Soapbox. Follow her on Twitter @mapperry.