From Fomo to Funktionslust

A lot of unhappiness we see in the world comes from people doing things based on their fear of missing out instead of doing things because of their funkstionslust. Fomo can rob us of true and lasting happiness because it orients us to look for fulfilment outside of ourselves. Looking outwards for fulfilment leads to despair because what is outside of us is outside our control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control the economy. We cannot control what other people are going to do. By allowing outside forces to determine our happiness, we move from having full agency in the world to being victims of circumstance. We move from making things happen in the world to having things in the world happen to us.

Fomo can make us feel bad about things others have that we don't instead of enjoying things that we do have. It feeds envy. We end up wanting stuff we don't really need or we don't even want or things that may not be even good for us. We lust after these things simply because other people have them and we don't. Fomo keeps us on the treadmill of always chasing after the next thing without ever truly “having” the thing that is in front of our face at this very moment. We think of the next thing we don't yet have instead of taking the time to savour the present moment of having the things that we do get along the way. Fomo keeps us on a perpetual cycle of feeling that we are inadequate, that we are not enough, that we are missing something, we are broken, that we need to be fixed — that we need our next fix.

Fomo creates a culture of competitive consumption. People put up with the discomfort (not to mention the waste of precious time) of camping out overnight in the queue to be the first to trade their hard earned cash to get their hands on the latest smart phone or a pair of “limited edition” sneakers. Thanks to the charlatans of advertising, suddenly we now judge people less on the absolute wonder of their unique being and more on what brand of jeans they wear, what brand of phone and laptop they use, what brand of music they listen to, or movies and TV shows they watch.

Fomo can create a culture of isolation and disconnection. I fondly remember my early childhood of growing up in a small village where for a time there was only one television set in the entire area. People would just come together in the small living room area at the house with the TV during lunch and dinner to watch the village's favourite prime time shows. Everyone got to know each other— from babies to grannies. Then, slowly, competitive consumption took over. The joy of huddling together as a community was replaced by the fomo on having the latest and greatest television set. For a while I myself felt the fomo when we still had a black and white television set where I had to get up and turn a knob to change channels while other families (mainly those who had the breadwinner working overseas) had large color TVs with remote control. Now of course we've come to the extreme of each person having their own personal screen — even multiple screens per person at times. So much so, that it's fast becoming a social issue. People are so addicted to their screens that we're fast losing our capacity to focus full undivided attention on our fellow humans or nature.

Fomo can be blamed for the bubbles, manias and panics that have plagued human history which have caused periods of political and economic unrest — from the the first recorded bubble of Tulipmania during the Dutch Golden Age in 1637 to the subprime mortgage derivatives banking crisis which started in the US in 2008 and which continues to threaten the global financial system to date. One could easily imagine people back in the Dutch Golden Age piling up to get in on the action of buying tulip bulbs even if their intuition told them that prices have become ridiculously high for fomo on the profits that those who started the mania made. It is easy to imagine the people in the US back in 2008 who can't really afford to buy a house, let alone investment properties, piling in to get no income no job (ninja) loans for fear of missing out on the capital gains other people seem to be getting. It's easy to imagine the banks copying other banks in selling these home loans fueled by fomo of their competitors' share price going up because of the paper profits they've made in securitizing these loans and selling them to the insatiable appetite of investment banks. It's easy to imagine how managers of pension funds got conned into buying these toxic assets of dodgy homeloans repackaged as “AAA” securities by the investment banks. And so the gravy train went on with the regulators and politicians in tow, until the whole thing collapsed like a house of cards.

Sadly, it's usually the last ones to join the madness who end up holding the bag of losses. And the last ones are more often than not fuelled by fomo and don't really know what they're getting themselves into.

Fomo ultimately rests on perceived scarcity, whether that perception is based on actual, imagined or manufactured scarcity. It's the thinking that there are only a limited number of ways of getting ahead in life. That there are these and only these limited opportunities out there. The trick is to get lucky and get into that one thing. It's looking at what worked for others and copying it blindly. Fomo rests on believing that there are tricks in life and that it is knowing these tricks that can bring fufilment. It is the belief tha there is a ranking of elite grade schools, high schools, universities, and companies to work for. Life then becomes a lottery of wanting to hit the jackpot of getting into the unending treadmill of running like the Red Queen just to keep one's place (let alone get ahead) in these rankings.

Like any resentment, fomo is an addictive poison that keeps repeating in a never ending loop inside our minds. Like any poison, there are antidotes to cut through this infinite loop of resentment. One of the most potent antidote to fomo is funkstionslust.

In the flow of funkstionslust

Funkstionslust is a German word that refers to the pleasure taken in doing what one does best. It is getting fulfilment from doing the thing in itself instead of doing one thing for the sake of getting something else. Funkstionslust is getting enjoyment from what one is doing at the very moment—right here, right now. It is true enjoyment—being in the joy of the moment.

Funkstionslust is a potent antidote to fomo because it starts with and focuses only in the enjoyment one gets from an activity one is doing. It doesn't matter what that activity is. It doesn't matter if that activity is considered to be cool by one's peers or if it's considered to be the practical thing to do by the rest of society. With Funkstionslust the joy comes from doing the activity itself. The joy does not come from other people's reactions to the activity or what society thinks about the person doing the activity.

We cannot control what happens around us. We cannot control what other people do. What we have control over is the meaning we give to what happens. The meaning we give in turn affects how we feel about what happened, how we react to the events and what we do about it. As what Victor Frankl has discovered, meaning can be found in all forms of existence even in the brutal horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. Trauma can lead not only to post-traumatic stress disorder but could also lead to post-traumatic growth.

If people can find growth in traumatic experiences, imagine the personal growth and fulfilment we can have from the pleasure of being totally absorbed in what we enjoy doing. That is the joy of being totally involved in life which from decades of psychological research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we are now able to identify as being in a state of flow. In Csikszentmihalyi's own words:

What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

The key here is that Funkstionslust can be cultivated. It does not have to feel pleasant while doing the activity. Imagine an athlete pushing herself to the point of vomit during a race, yet that vomiting moment could be the best moment of her life. It doesn't have to feel good right at the outset. Imagine learning a new language or a new musical instrument. It can be frustrating at first to learn the words and grammar or to learn the scales. Yet the more one does it, the more one practices, the better on gets, the more enjoyment one can get from the activity. There is enjoyment that can be found from having achieved a sense of mastery of an activity.

In contrast to the scarcity mindset of fomo, the opportunities for finding flow in Funkstionslust is infinite. Just as no two individuals (even identical twins) can be totally the same, each person can find their own way of getting into a state of flow. Some find it in playing games or sports or indulging in a hobby. Some find in mastery of their body through gymnastics, yoga or martial arts. Others can find it in making stuff or in the creative arts. Some find it in their work, raising a family, having fun with friends or in the mastery of abstractions such as mathematics or philosophy.

Now imagine if we can expand this further. What if we can derive enjoyment from everything we do at each moment? What if every moment of our lives can be a moment to practice flow? What if we can have Funkstionslust for the most mundane activity like brushing our teeth to the most intense sensations we can ever have like having an orgasm. How would our lives start to look like? How would it be different from the lives we now live?