Mudita is one of my very favorite words. A Sanskrit word with no English counterpart, mudita translates to sympathetic joy; the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being. Doesn’t that just sound so amazing? Being happy for others’ happiness without it meaning that you somehow have less happiness as a result. I mean, happiness isn’t pie, right?
FOMO, on the other hand, sucks. It’s that old fear of missing out, worrying that all the good stuff is happening when you’re not there. I’ve experienced FOMO since way back in the 80s when I had to be in bed by the time I heard the theme song to M*A*S*H after the 10 o’clock nightly news. (Side note: Mom and Dad, 10:30 was a really late bedtime!) I was sure all the good stuff was happening after I had to be in bed.
These days, FOMO is amped up exponentially for many of us, thanks to our constant friend, social media. Everyone’s out there posting highlight reels of their lives on social media. And it can feel crappy to evaluate your own life and accomplishments if you’re comparing it to everyone else’s brightest moments. It has fueled many a social media hiatus for me. But I, like a lot of my friends, want to be on social media because of the connections I have made and the relationships I have kept because of it.
FOMO and depression
I think that, especially as moms, we experience FOMO in many forms. If we stay home to raise kids, we fear we’re missing out on career opportunities. If we continue working, we fear we’re missing out on our kids’ experiences and growth. If we’re scrolling social media from under the duvet at 9 p.m. on a Friday, we fear we’re missing all that exciting stuff other moms seem to have the energy to do. It’s exhausting.
In my opinion, FOMO can be the most effective depression fuel. All these things other people are achieving… all the things I’m not achieving. It’s a huge, soul-sucking spiral, one that I have had a really hard time getting around.
Let’s take that staying home to raise kids example – when Clark was 18 months old, I had working mom FOMO. There were so many things I was missing and my untreated depression was heightening, so I decided I wanted to stay home with him. Just before his second birthday, I worked my last day. I threw myself into prepping for an international trip, we went on the trip, we came home to winter weather but I got to stay with my little guy! Warm and cozy and cooped up and climbing the walls. Guess what – my depression was back in full force. WHAT GIVES?!? I changed the thing I thought was making me sad – I left my job to devote my energy to my son. But, guess what, my FOMO had returned, this time, as I watched my former colleagues thrive in their careers while I was mired in fruit snacks and pull-ups.
What if we could use mudita to stave off FOMO?
As I thought about mudita for this piece, I kept coming back to FOMO, which was weird because they are not at all the same thing. The more I thought about it, a concept struck me – what if mudita is the answer to FOMO? What if applying mudita means simply taking myself out of the equation when thinking about others’ success and happiness, which I think is the real source of FOMO?
What if, instead of thinking, she never left work after having kids and now she’s killing it. I never should have left… I instead thought, she’s really killing it at work. I’m really happy for her. She’s worked so hard for that success.
Or what if, instead of thinking, he got his MBA. Why didn’t ever go back to get my MBA?… I instead thought, he got his MBA! All that hard work he put in really paid off!
See?!? Neither of those things were about me at all, but I made them about me by letting FOMO take over. By removing myself from the thought process, I got to simply be happy for the success of my friends. It’s mudita in practice! It’s such a small shift in thinking, but I think this one little way of introducing mudita into our own self-talk could really make a difference in how we feel about our own accomplishments and those of others.
Putting mudita into practice
I think there have been a handful of times when I used mudita to fight FOMO without even realizing it. In retrospect, it was really effective! In one specific incident about a year after I’d decided to stay home, a former colleague and dear friend graciously invited me along on a work trip to a resort. During the days, she worked while I laid by the pool, soaking up the desert sun. In the evenings, we met up to drink wine, eat cheese and talk about her day, spent with many of the same clients I used to serve.
That trip almost made me miserable – the exact opposite of what we both hoped for. But on the plane on the way out, I gave myself a stern pep talk. You will not wish you were working. You will not wish you were at a fancy dinner. You will not wish for anything other than cloudless skies and a comfy bed. And thanks to mudita, I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed spending time with my friend. Her clients were pleased with the conference. Her team did their jobs well and the conference was a great success. What a joy to witness my friend’s success and not feel like I was missing a thing.
Did this resonate with you? What do you think about using mudita to cure FOMO? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.