It was bank holiday Monday. Did I do something really exciting? Did I post photos all over social media? Did I ‘make memories’, as they say. No I stayed at home in my pyjamas and flitted in between the sofa and my bed. Granted I did have some sort of outer space cold virus that meant that I had to be at least 50cm from a remote control, a packet of oreos and a duvet at all times in order to ensure survival. But I was pretty content being totally slobbed out, surrounded by snotty tissues. I even took some pride in my alternative anti-facebook status by wilfully refusing to post a status update of myself in my ‘kittens with mittens’ jim jams whilst feeling [insert emoji here]’.
It was not all plain sailing for my slobby mindset however as I succumbed to the frequent taps from the little devil on my shoulder: ‘you’re not meant to be sitting here – you’re wasting your life because you’re not filling it up with x, y and z. I mean look at Tracy’s facebook photos: she is out doing her one-handed paragliding whilst writing her first novel and she has just had triplets. You have no excuse.’
The voice of the little devil did give me some unease. What if my bed-ridden, oreo-munching existence was just a step away from me being one of those obese people who have to get crane-lifted out of their homes? What if I had nothing to talk about at a party because I never did anything exciting? What if I missed out on all the millions of things that I could be doing with lots of exciting people right now? The voice of FOMO was reaching fever pitch; that is, until I noticed it and made the conscious decision not to give a monkeys, to return the last chapter in my book and to bite into another oreo.
‘Small’ ways of being are not given the value that they perhaps deserve in our social media saturated society. We have to be posting pictures of ourselves sky diving, travelling far and yonder or otherwise having some sort of epic time in order to feel that we are validating our existences and making them ‘special’. It is true: we are fortunate in the West in these times. We can travel all over the world, sample new cultures and try our hand at almost anything if we want to in the pursuit of making our lives ‘exciting and worthwhile’. Yes: these experiences are amazing and worthy of telling our friends, family and the stranger at the bus stop all about. But what we don’t always realise is that we can get addicted to looking outside of ourselves all the time to satiate our desire for contentment. The environmental naysayers might even say that our demand for gratification and the desire only to seek enjoyment from external experiences (trips, holidays, festivals, sports and so on) is stoking the fires of climate change (quite literally), goading us to fly all over the world or indulge in our trip-of-a-lifetime every year or our five-times-a-year mini break habit.
Our acquisitive and picture storybook-loving society makes us all victims of FOMO to a certain extent. There have been times in my life where I have had to fill all my holidays and weekends with ‘amazing’ events, things and people in order to feel that I was living a life that I ‘deserved’ or in order to stave off any feeling of emptiness. It is as if the ‘because you’re worth it’ slogan was the mantra that underpinned the justification for all my wanton over-spending on trips and events. If I were to suddenly spend a weekend doing chores and reading books I would feel a lack; as though I was living a bit of a rubbish life. But I realise now that that this is a state of mind and one which is not at all accurate. I am worth it anyway. Period. I don’t need to keep that sentiment alive by investing in a spa holiday in the Bahamas.
‘The existence you deserve’ is no doubt a nonsense invented by marketeers selling package deals and holidays. The only person who determines whether your existence is worthwhile is you and that is not conditional on you doing anything with it. It is conditional on accepting yourself and being content with who you are, whether you jet off to the other side of the world or simply spend time on a lounger in your back garden. You might fly a thousand miles but you can never get away from yourself and the way that you feel inside. You transport all your insecurities, niggles, anxieties and bugbears with you.
In addition, it would not be right or indeed humane to suggest that by doing lots of exciting things or going on lots of trips you had a more worthwhile existence than the alcoholic hobo who sits in the park drinking cider. Everyone’s lives have the same innate value. It is not possible to make it more worthwhile than anyone else’s by filling it up with exciting things.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not a killjoy. I, like everyone else, enjoy having holidays and things to look forward to. However I am also content to live moment by moment and take more time appreciating the small everyday things as markers of gratitude: my first cup of tea; the affectionate greeting from the cat when I return home and the sunset from my bedroom window. In my slowing down, what I have noticed in particular is that the more attention I give the small things the more value I get from them. Conversely, it seems that if I am busy and on a roll from one thing to the next I am chasing the next buzz or the next big thing in the world outside. Ironically my life is so fast-paced that I don’t really stop to fully appreciate anything and then I need more exciting things in my life because I can’t be in the moment. When I live life fast, my mind also tends to disregard the small things as ‘boring’, ‘trivial’ or ‘unexciting’.
At the end of the day what gives you the ‘good life’ is really just a matter of your own perception. The way I look at it is that if I were to find some peace, acceptance and equanimity in my seemingly dull, pedestrian middle-aged existence I would be relaxed and content all the time rather than just the twice a year when I went on the foreign holiday. I would not be attached to looking outside of myself for kicks and would instead find a day at home in the garden as enjoyable, inspiring and intrinsically valuable as a day sipping champagne at the races or breathing in the culture of a European city.
You find your value, not in where you are and what you’re doing but in being yourself and appreciating your life, whatever you are doing (or not doing). Other people do not appreciate you for the things you do and for your facebook photos (for which the scroll through and ‘like’ process takes about a milisecond) but for who you are. So if you can just be (and be content) with who you are, you are on the road to freedom (and you don’t have to pay Expedia for it).