Philosoph-Off: Jeremy Bentham vs. Fear of Missing Out

Blame it on the bucket list or any number of pinterest-y quotes about how awful it is to have things in your life that you regret not doing. It’s so much easier to make a mistake, hit the ground, and move on than it is to wonder how differently (better?) your life could have been had you gone option B. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a ubiquitous 20something disease.

Jeremy Bentham developed an awesome decision making tool called hedonic calculus. Basically you just rate every potential course of action according to a static set of conditions:

  • the intensity of happiness it will bring you
  • the duration of the happiness
  • the certainty or uncertainty that the action will make you happy
  • whether the gratification will be immediate or delayed
  • fecundity
  • whether the action will have negative consequences
  • how many people will it bring happiness to?

I’m not trying to tell Jeremy how to philosophize but it really seems like this algorithm needs an eighth consideration: whether the absence of the action will induce FOMO. You could go through this whole list and determine that an action doesn’t sound like a really great investment. Things like moving to Brooklyn because you really want to make it as a writer, switching careers or getting back together with an ex have actually a negative guarantee of happiness. They are highly risky situations in which it’s realistic that you may end up broke, unhappy and living with your parents.

Adding potential for FOMO to Bentham’s hedonic calculus acknowledge that learning life lessons or benefiting from uncalculated risks are just as valuable than a safe bet. We have more options than people in Bentham’s time did. We also live longer and know that well have a long time to stew about a missed opportunity when we’re kept artificially alive in a nursing home. Act accordingly.

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    Sadly, no one in their 20’s will have the attention span to read all this.
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  12. hardcorefornerds said: isn’t that just opportunity cost? you could calculate the likely happiness that NOT doing something could bring to you, and see if it exceeds taking the risk… bingo.
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