As the antithesis of FOMO, JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out – deserves particular attention during the holiday season, when its evil twin looms unusually large. Many of us seem to have a dysfunctional relationship with the holidays, and that’s putting it mildly. The fear of missing out can tie us in knots. We feel obliged to celebrate and gather with friends and family with the expectation of enjoying ourselves but often end up feeling stressed, frustrated, and disappointed.
In case you were wondering, I am not about to advocate for dispensing with holiday celebrations, or to suggest that the notion of ritualized gatherings is inherently wrong. Just as the harm to our well-being comes from our relationship with technology rather than the technology itself, I’m advocating that we stop the madness, not the joy.
Let’s think about how to celebrate the holidays through the JOMO lens:
Traditions and rituals are good things when we make them our own.
Tradition and ritual are the glue that binds a culture together, whether it’s a broader society, our communities, or our families. Indeed, as humans, we naturally ritualize behaviors that are needed and repetitive, drawing comfort from following established patterns that serve us well, like exchanging polite phrases, brushing our teeth, or honoring a wedding or funeral. Creating a tradition is a way of saying, “this is important. Let’s do it like this in the future, and teach new members (of our society, community, or family) how to do it, so we come together around it.”
All too often, though, we tend to mistake tradition for obligation. Traditions exist to serve a positive purpose, not lock us into a way of doing things that don’t bring joy. Furthermore, obligations are things externally imposed on us- things we must do or risk the consequences. I think we can agree; this is not the point of the holidays!
If you feel pressure to celebrate your holidays in a way that’s all stress and no joy – that a certain person must do all the cooking, that everyone exchanges expensive gifts, that everyone is obliged to participate in religious practices they don’t value – it’s time to talk to the people you share your holidays with about creating your own traditions.
You’re likely to find a surprising number of your family and friends agree with you and are greatly relieved to renegotiate your holiday traditions, but felt obligated to carry on doing things that didn’t make everyone happy! Every tradition started from somewhere. Your family’s holiday traditions belong to you: if you want to have everyone chip in and cater your Christmas dinner instead of doing any cooking, go for it! Want to turn it into a potluck instead so Grandma isn’t in the kitchen for three days? Even better.
Every thriving culture adapts its traditions as the needs of its members change and evolve- you’re allowed to do the same. This Christmas season is an excellent opportunity for younger members of your family and social circle to experience the joy of establishing their own rituals- ones they may even pass on to their kids someday!
Lean away from materialism – for everyone’s joy.
It’s becoming a well-worn axiom how materialistic the holidays have become- people have been complaining about it for so long, it almost doesn’t even feel like a product of “our modern times.” Videos abound online of human stampedes during holiday blowout sales, our social media gets invaded by holiday marketing, and the competition to Pin our beautifully-packaged presents ramps up with the first chill of fall. Even during the Great Recession, holiday spending dropped less than 5%- FOMO and obligatory gift-giving were an even more powerful force than empty wallets.
I believe the tide is beginning to turn on this, though, and I celebrate it. While it’s true that in the United States, Black Friday hysteria is on the decline (in part because of the rise of online shopping and its digital twin Cyber Monday), I suspect it’s also because people are waking up to the fact that they’re not any happier celebrating the holidays this way.
As you follow the previous step, and take a fresh look at your holiday traditions, incorporate your spending patterns into this examination as well. Understandably in our capitalistic society, we’ve conflated the idea of generosity with stuff. Still, generosity is, at its core, about the idea of giving selflessly- and this need not be spending money.
If exchanging gifts is an established tradition in your circle and you think it’s time for a change, be the one to have the courage to suggest it- but I’d encourage you to not merely do away with the idea of gifting altogether, and simply change the way you show your generosity to loved ones.
There are infinite ways to be generous that don’t involve buying people stuff: cook or craft something, if you have the inclination; organize a special event, like a family outing; pool your social network to help friends or family members find employment, help with a project, or succeed in school; volunteer for a cause everyone feels good about.
If your family and friends have a hard time getting away from the idea of spending money, suggest a tradition that shifts the emphasis away from spending it on stuff: I have friends that exchange “gifts” of donations in their friends’ and relatives’ names to charities they love, or gift each other experiences, like lessons in a new hobby.
Everyone benefits from making the holidays less materialistic: the pressure and FOMO of the shopping rat race falls away, and everyone has more time and energy to spend on enjoying time together.
And while you’re together…
Minimize or eliminate the presence of devices in your holiday gatherings wherever humanly possible.
If you manage only one decisive change this holiday season, make it this one. Our smartphones and other devices steal our time, attention, and energy all year long- they don’t deserve to rob your holiday of joy. No matter what holidays you celebrate this season, from Christmas to Festivus, the purpose for every one of them is to be together, and the presence of devices will only detract from that. Devices do not make your holiday gatherings better- period, end of story.
If you’re hosting dinner, consider having a decorative box for everyone to put their phones in (left outside the dining room) while they’re at the table- if they urgently need to use their device, they’ll have to leave the table to do so (an excellent example of the habit-hacking technique of reducing convenience). Send around an email or text before the gathering to prepare everyone and address concerns ahead of time.
Resist, as much as possible, the temptation to curate your holiday experience, where everyone whips out phones to ‘Gram the roast turkey, menorah, or beautifully-wrapped gifts. A holiday is a moment– live in that moment. Don’t package it for everyone to vote on tomorrow. Nothing about a joyful holiday includes competition, vanity, or FOMO.
No matter what your holidays, I wish you every success in making warm human connections, the focus of your celebrations this year. Merry JOMO!