It’s safe to say that we’ve officially transitioned into the age of JOMO ― aka the joy of missing out. Our Instagram feeds are inundated with memes of people curled up with blankets and glasses of wine on a Friday night, looking ridiculously happy to be alone instead of partaking in social activities. When our coworkers ask us what we did all weekend and we tell them we just “stayed in, reading and catching up on sleep,” they respond with “that sounds so nice.”
The age of JOMO is likely correlated to Americans now viewing busyness as a status symbol of sorts, according to data on the subject. When we lean into a chaotic schedule and then glorify it, that leaves little energy ― or time ― for socializing.
In theory, this all sounds pretty positive (and not to mention relaxing). After all, research shows FOMO ― the fear of missing out ― can take a bit of a toll on our mental health: One study found that overestimating other people’s social connectedness can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and a lowered sense of well-being.
The only time JOMO becomes a problem is when we end up canceling plans we’ve previously made and hurt others in the process. This ends up wearing on our relationships, which creates an even bigger problem in the long run: Studies show that strong relationships are the biggest predictor of happiness.
So, how can you stop canceling on people for good while still prioritizing yourself? Here’s what you should know:
Understand that you’re naturally wired to say yes when you really mean no.
First, it’s important to recognize that agreeing to do something with your friends knowing that you’ll dread it later is perfectly normal. Experts say this is because we’re hard-wired for social connection, so saying “yes” has to do with a combination of wanting to please others, feeling in-the-moment pressure to come up with an answer or just simply FOMO.
“It’s a very primal, human desire to want to be a part of something. We naturally seek out the company over others,” said Alison Stone, a New York-based psychotherapist. “The problem is that when we do things out of obligation versus interest, we don’t end up feeling much joy or fulfillment. Instead, we often feel frustrated, exhausted and resentful.”
Being more aware of this may help inform your decision-making and may allow you to not fully commit before you really know how you feel about your plans.
Trust your gut instinct when you’re asked to make plans.
This sounds obvious, but it’s a lot easier said than done: Don’t say yes to things you know you don’t want to do. Ilene Ruhoy, a board-certified neurologist based in Seattle, said we intuitively know what we enjoy doing and what we don’t, so it’s important to tune into that.
One advantage of technology is that it actually buys you more time to tune into your instincts. If someone texts or emails you to ask if you want to partake in something, you have a lot more time to think about whether you actually want to say yes than if they’d asked you in person.
“Be mindful about the parts of you that might want to attend the event, as well as the parts of you that don’t,” Stone said. “Consider how you’ll feel when the event rolls around and you’ve chosen not to participate. Will you feel relieved? Guilty? Thinking these things through will provide you with the opportunity to check in with yourself.”
When you want to cancel, quiz yourself on why.
“We should look deep into our intention and motivation when we feel the urge to cancel on something we’ve said yes to,” Ruhoy said. “Is it because the activity of interest really does not interest you? Do you not connect with the people involved? Were you just looking forward to a quiet night at home?”
Remember that canceling causes more damage than saying no.
If you’re having a hard time turning someone down, keep this in mind: It’ll hurt the person’s feelings a whole lot more if you cancel later.
“People often think it’s easier to say yes than experience the uncomfortable feeling that is saying no,” said Sophie Chiche, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and life coach.
Chiche added that it’s important to remember that you have a right to how you want to spend your time. And the sooner you realize and own that, it’ll be better for both you and your relationships.
If all else fails, learn to cancel gracefully.
Even if you do better tune into your instincts and learn to turn down invitations that you know won’t make you happy, canceling is inevitable. So how can you do it in a way that preserves your relationships?
Stone said it’s important to remember that canceling at the last minute does often rub people the wrong way, so take ownership of what’s happening.
“Follow up the cancellation with a suggestion for rescheduling,” Stone said. “Again, emphasize that you prioritize the relationship, and make an effort to see the person in a setting that’s more comfortable for you.”
It’s also important to note that if you find yourself constantly find canceling plans and avoiding social interaction, it could be a sign of a larger mental health issue. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing social withdrawal.