FOMO and Judaism (Fear of Missing Out)

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp May 28, 2018


Scared woman at home looking through the shutters

Evermore with the saturation of social media, it seems that EVERYONE is having a better time than you are, at any time of day, anywhere in the world.

How does Judaism deal with the issue of FOMO? I posed this question to a group of high school students I was teaching: “Is it better to know or not to know there are better experiences outside of your own?”

To put it more succinctly: when we focus on what we don’t have, we don’t enjoy what we do.  But if we don’t focus on what we don’t have, perhaps we’ll never know what we can achieve.

One of the teens immediately raised her hand and said quite confidently that Judaism 100 percent supports the idea that you shouldn’t look outside yourself.  She quoted the 10th Commandment (don’t covet) and the Jewish laws of modesty as crystal clear proofs.  In her mind, Judaism says “don’t look and don’t show.”

I challenged her on that in a few different ways.  First, it is our nature to look and to want to be seen, and as such it is doubtful that Judaism is so unilaterally prohibitive. In Judaism, there is a right way to do something and a wrong way, but the Torah works with human nature.  I brought this up because the student herself professes not to follow what she feels Judaism says to do in this regard, which would only lead her to one of the two conclusions: either Judaism is wrong, or she is living improperly.  Either way I am not happy with those implications.

But on a deeper level, Jews and Judaism is trendsetting, and it is impossible to fathom how you can change the world if you accept the status quo.  If you spend your time appreciating your life and the world as it is, would you ever opt to change it?

The crucial question that must be considered is when should we have FOMO not whether or not it is appropriate or good?  This is the filter by which we as Jews should look at our lives. Conversely or just because social media is so ever present, we oftentimes see something and want it long before we consider its implications or impact in our lives.

A person should begin by developing self-awareness. In a way, this is easy. Look at yourself. Ask yourself what you want and what you need. Oftentimes if you are just quiet and honest (of course that’s the hardest part), things are usually very clear. Only then is it constructive to have FOMO as it will push you to become who you were meant to become.

A practical example: You want to be a (insert your dream life situation—pro athlete, business exec, fitness model, sage).  And you can spend hours and hours watching these people who have it and feel FOMO.  “If only!” you think.

It can be even more fundamental: you look at friends with a good marriage, or a person in great shape, and sigh in jealous discontent with your tension-filled relationship or ever-present love handles and donut habit.

You don’t start there. You start with asking yourself if this matters to me. Then you ask if I am willing to do the work to change my life to get there. The answer isn’t always yes. Many people would love to drive a Ferrari. Few are comfortable working to acquire the amount of capital to do so, or using the capital in that manner once they do. For those people, FOMO isn’t really FOMO at all.  They aren’t missing out because they don’t really want it.

But once you know who you are, and what you are willing to work for, FOMO is very healthy because it shows you it’s possible. There is a famous Jewish statement that says we are supposed to figure out when our deeds will be like those of our illustrious ancestors. That’s FOMO right there. When will your deeds be like the world’s greatest?  Once you understand it’s possible, if only you desire it, you will begin to work to achieve.

Judaism doesn’t simply profess that we should ignore the world and just try to be happy with our lot. What we should ignore is the output, what we should focus on is the input.  What drives us?  What potential do we see in our lives?  Where is our passion?  And when we consider successful people, what matters isn’t their outcome because we can never “have it all.”  What we should be inspired by is their input. How did they cultivate their passion?  Where and when and how did they experience this sense of wonder or love that they turned into something real?

At the end of the day, that is where we experience G-d, when we take our longing and connect it to his world. But its not a passive process. It’s active. Like us. Like G-d.


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