When you scroll through people’s glossy and shiny lives on social media, it’s all too easy to think: Is everyone having more fun than I am? I certainly have thought this as I have read through acquaintances’ curated feasts on Instagram and friends’ documented Friday nights on Snapchat. A new study found that I’m not alone with this persistent worry.
A Cornell University study led by Sebastian Deri found that across multiple populations, a universal social truth held true: Most of us think that other people are having richer and more active social lives than we are. From college students to mall shoppers the researchers interviewed, they found that respondents were rating their social lives as inferior to their friends, families, and acquaintances. No one was immune to the creeping sensation that everyone must be leading more exciting social lives than they were.
This study aligns with previous research on our social anxieties. One Harvard Business School study found that we worry that everyone is making more friends than us. Forty-eight percent of college freshmen at the University of British Columbia thought their friends had made more friends than they did, which in turn impacted their self-esteem and led to lower rates of belonging and well-being.
Social media may not be the sole culprit to these networking anxieties, but it definitely influences us because it “perpetuates the idea that other people are more social than you,” Ashley Whillans, one of the Harvard Business School study’s authors told NPR. “We often fail to communicate when we fail, and that might be bad for us and also for our social network.”
So FOMO is real — here’s how to cure it
The first step to realizing that you have generalized FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is recognizing the triggers that cause it in you. If you hate-read glamorous people’s lives on Facebook, you may be using social media as an escape to deal with questions in your own life. The cure is not just cutting out these triggers, but also learning how to shift your attention to the here and now instead of the curated fantasies your anxious brain is telling you are real.
As advice columnist Heather Havrilesky advised a reader unhealthily obsessed with other people’s Instagram lives, “You have to do more than try to avoid social media or to avoid these odd exits out of your life or your consciousness. You can’t just tell yourself ‘Stop chasing self-hatred and rejection!’ You have to make a firm commitment to reality itself.”
Shifting your focus begins with a commitment to what you have, not just what you want. As practitioners on gratitude journals can attest to, focusing on the good in your life helps you feel good. Research has found that gratitude is one of the best methods to curing the inner craving and gnawing doubt social comparisons cause.
So next time you find yourself in an envy spiral of other people’s lives, take a step back and refocus your attentions.