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YOLO: A Contemporary Carpe Diem Essay

You only live once, so make the most of it. #YOLO

It wasn’t until I was watching a reality tv show (whose name has been omitted for the purposes of saving face) that I came across someone using the term YOLO aloud. I’d been hearing it on and off for some time but wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning. As urbandictionary is a godsend for those of us teetering on the very edge of being hip (note: the author is fully aware that by using the term “hip” she is clearly indicating that she is likely not), I came to find it meant, “you only live once.” This week I came across another variant of the same notion abbreviated as FOMO, “fear of missing out.” Naturally, my free-associating mind wandered to a man whose very name is phonetically not unlike this YOLO business. Existential psychologist Irvin Yalom wrote about the four “givens” or “ultimate concerns” of the human condition: death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom. Interestingly, the premise of YOLO and FOMO is not entirely unrelated to Yalom’s writings.

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The idea of YOLO at its simplest is a contemporary version of “carpe diem,” to live life to its fullest. The Washington Post lifestyle section referenced the emergence of this lexical trend last Spring, with the New York Times covering the notion of FOMO over a year ago. Many explain that YOLO is an excuse for stupid stunts of the Jersey Shore variety. Others blame FOMO on social media like Facebook. As social psychologists will tell us, downward social comparisons will make us feel better about ourselves (“at least I’m better off than those losers”) and upward social comparisons can make us feel worse (“look at everyone out there living the life, and I’m here on the couch in my pajamas watching Full House reruns”). But what’s going on that such words have transcended teen lingo and started to seep into the mainstream? It is one thing to be living in a time when everything is abbreviated. I would have understood it back when we were paying for text messages by network rather than phone type and trying to communicate within the 160-character limit. Or even if we were used to doing it as a result of Twitter’s brevity requirements.

However, it is entirely another matter to have whole phrases of the abbreviated variety, as they implicate heavy usage. After all, who would bother coming up with an abbreviation for “I need to refill my water bottle again” #hydration, anyone? In essence, the fear of missing out may be related to a fear of a missed opportunity for social connection. It may signify the meaningless of life without others to share it with, the loneliness and isolation we may be forced to suffer when human connection is removed from the equation. We’ve all been to parties we had high hopes for, only to find them in a word, “lame.” We’ve cursed ourselves for being stuck with the creepy person yelling in our ear over the sound of music booming a few decibels above where we left our sanity.

And yet we return time and time again searching for something intangible which we often can’t quite put into words. Is it conversation? The admiration of others? The affirmation that we exist and matter in this world? It is hard to say because in a world with infinite inventions for improving and speeding up social connection, we’ve left a void of ozone portions in prioritizing space for silence. In truth, it’s silence that gives us the answers. It’s what tells us we needn’t worry about making the most out of every minute of this life we are given. The silence that assures us that nothing of “epic” proportions is going on without us. For the moments that have truly moved us were rarely the ones we expected, nor were they planned for, and most certainly did not occur in a room with over a hundred other bodies packed into a tiny space.

Much as there is nothing like being at a concert where your favorite band is playing, there is also nothing like the moment when your favorite song comes on the radio in your car when you are by yourself and you sing your heart out with reckless abandon. We are oriented toward perfection, toward making every moment count. Just look at the ads for the newest iPhone. Each one made with such painstaking precision, everything calculated, made to be indispensable. This is the model to which we hold ourselves. Planning, productivity, efficiency, control, perfection—they make up the cardinal points of the pentacle of the millennial era. Add to it the fact that we are habitually checking. In the time that it will take me to complete this blog post, chances are I may have “checked” Facebook at least 3 times, and that’s if I’m grossly underestimating it. As a therapist, most often one of the scariest things I can ever say to a client is to sit in silent solitude for any stretch of time.

That is when the existential questions arise. Am I doing meaningful work? Who will remember me when I am gone? Will any of this have mattered? What about the ones who love me, and those who I have loved? Making meaning out of all this and finding peace is the type of work we are often unprepared for in this life. It is easier to tune out these thoughts by distracting ourselves, be it with substances or living life as though it were an endless party. The reality is that in the end, these questions will catch up to us, if they haven’t already. They need not necessarily be answered, but holding them in awareness matters greatly. So am I saying we all should sit in everlasting meditation?

Of course not. But should we engage in risky behaviors on a whim, or imbibe, caffeinate, or otherwise medicate to convince ourselves we’ll have a good time just like everyone else? The truth is that the curtain will fall, roses may be tossed, and the lights dimmed. At the end of the day, the glamour and glory of the characters we fabricate for ourselves fade when the costumes come off, the makeup is wiped away, and all that’s left is the here and now. Instead of fearing it, embrace it. Even if it doesn’t work out and you feel it was a hopeless endeavor, you can always chalk it up to a YOLO moment.

Summary

YOLO and FOMO are two expressions that we hear a lot right now, especially in different types of the social media. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times referenced to these terms over a year ago and people mean that these expressions is just an excuse for stupid stunts by the Jersey Shore kind. YOLO means “You’ll only live once”, and basically has the same meaning as “Carpe diem” live the life to the fullest, while FOMO means “Fear of missing out”. The writer, Goal Auzeen compare these expressions with the words from a psychologist called Irvin Yalom, (the surname sounds very much like the term YOLO). Yalom wrote about the four concerns about the human condition. Death, isolation, meaninglessness and freedom. A social psychologist would say that downward social comparison would make us feel good about ourselves while upward social comparison would make us feel the opposite.

Is it the opportunity for social connections that makes us terrified of missing out on everything? We usually have high hopes when we go to a party or an event, but too often the night doesn’t go as we expected and our hope of a good time is crushed. And yet we return to the same place the night after that and so it goes night after night. We look for something that usually never find. The writer believes that we’ve stopped prioritizing the importance of silence. “it’s silence that gives us the answers. It’s what tells us we needn’t worry about making the most out of every minute of this life we are given”. At the end of the day it’s what we have here and now that counts, the glamour and the glory will fade away, don’t fear it, embrace it. #NoFear #Embrace #YOLO Discussion

Personally I think that YOLO is one of the most overused expressions at the moment. It’s just a way to show off and make yourself feel better, by making other people feel bad about themselves. Especially in social medias like Instagram or Facebook where you can upload pictures. You can take a picture with your phone, add a nice filter to make the picture more attractive, hash tag #YOLO and then u have created an illusion of something or a moment that most of the times isn’t that good as you describe it. Your followers will sit at home and envy you for this. But this is the viewer’s own fault, we have become so addicted to the social media that we spend most of the time worrying about how other people spend their time, instead of focusing about how to make the best out of our own time.

I’m not that familiar with the expression FOMO, but it has to be a direct reaction to YOLO. It’s the envy, of us wanting to post the pictures and updates that our friends post. No I’m generalizing but I don’t think that it’s just the fear of missing out the fun, one big reason is that you can’t tell anyone what you have been doing. It’s the same as when you were a kid and was going back to the school after the summer break. All of the kids who had been traveling with their parents were so excited about the first day of school, so that they could tell everyone what they had been doing. At the same time, the children who had been home for the break, doing basically nothing.

A lot of them possibly experienced this day as one of the worst days in the semester. From my own personal experience I have had the best moments in my life when I didn’t expect anything. For our own wellbeing we should stop to try and find the moments that will give us something and just let them come to us. And of course, you should not just sit at home because then, they will never come to you. I’m just saying that we can’t actively find the illusionary moments that people post on the internet. Go out and have fun, brag about it if you want it’s up to the reader how much energy they want to waste on your post.

References

Are You Afraid of Missing Out?

You only live once, so make the most of it. #YOLO
Published on October 7, 2012 by Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D. in Millennial Media http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/millennial-media/201210/are-you-afraid-missing-out


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