JOMO got no Mojo  

Express News Service

It sounded counterintuitive at first, but when Gurugram-based, 28-year-old fine arts student Akshay Khatri heard of JOMO or the joy of missing out—the latest buzzword in his circle of friends—he jumped on the bandwagon. For years, Khatri had suffered from JOMO’s bitter cousin— FOMO or the fear of missing out—a phenomenon that affects 69 percent of millennials, according to an OptinMonster report published in 2021. Commonly found in social extroverts, but also in people who lack self-belief and security within themselves, like Khatri, FOMO is the persistent feeling that others have it better, whether an experience, an opportunity or simply living a better life. JOMO, on the other hand, is the pleasure one derives from taking a break from social activity to spend some quality personal time. It has been gaining momentum over the last couple of years, spurred by the dangers of FOMO that largely come with excess social media use.

For Khatri, therefore, JOMO seemed like the perfect antidote to the sense of dread he experienced as a socially anxious person who wanted to avoid get-togethers, but no matter how hard he tried, he didn’t feel the contentment his friends did. “Where did the joy from JOMO go?” he asked himself, feeling lonelier than ever. Khatri’s turmoil spawned an intense rush of panic a month later. He then saw a therapist, who helped him work through the anxiety that treads on the heels of JOMO when chosen for the wrong reason such as avoiding or escaping real emotions and fears. 

Not a panacea 
JOMO, a term coined by US-based tech entrepreneur Anil Dash over a decade ago, to describe his joy of skipping an event to enjoy quiet time with family, is not a sovereign remedy to experience instant peace. It is, however, seen as a healthier alternative to FOMO for the ‘sense of groundedness’ it brings; being present and gaining pleasure from who you are and what you’re doing rather than worrying about what others might be doing. “In essence, JOMO is the subtle art of letting go of comparison and finding solace in one’s pursuits. It’s about becoming intentional with one’s time. Since it helps one switch off from the race of social obligations, one feels less anxious,” says Delhi-based psychotherapist Rupali Gupta. But there’s a caveat. For sustained JOMO, intention matters. Embracing it for what it truly is—an experience of solitude, including the pleasure of disconnecting from digital or in-person social activities—is beneficial only when the driving force is not the momentary relief offered by escaping stressful situations (that socially anxious or those who feel lonely may end up doing), but driven by a genuine need to find calm within. 

A new study supports this. Most people, who admitted to experiencing high levels of JOMO, also reported high levels of social anxiety, according to a Washington State University-led study published in the journal Telematics and Informatics Reports in March 2023. “People like Khatri are classic examples of why JOMO doesn’t work—in fact, only makes things worse—because they use it as an avoidance strategy to suppress their fears of being judged, excluded, embarrassed or humiliated in social interactions. 

It always boomerangs,” says Gupta. social media fuel Fanning the fire of anxiety is high engagement with social media in the form of obsessive checking for updates, status, likes and comments, a common refuge for socially anxious people who find online connections far less threatening than real-life ones. The study says those who excused themselves from events under the pretext of embracing JOMO still felt the need to know what others were doing through social media channels, which shows that once the initial calm wanes, the worry of ‘missing out’ strikes back. “This is problematic because it increases emotional tension and triggers the fight-or-flight response, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In the end, you find yourself cowering and stuck in self-limiting beliefs driven by compulsive habits of maintaining social connections to sidestep your fears,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Arpana Rai. In the final analysis, if you’re choosing JOMO to find calm, or to disconnect from a highly charged life to enjoy your own company, go for it, but if you’re using it to suppress or avoid emotions, or simply run away from FOMO, it’ll catch up to you.

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