By Danielle Pope

Our days are often so packed, and our lives are so full, that there is barely room for rest, let alone time to consider the moment. Research shows us that we need a mindset shift.

Heidi Sherwood was celebrating her birthday weekend away with friends when she realized she needed to slow down her life. It was a theme everyone around her was sharing: Days so packed, lives are so full, there’s barely room for rest, let alone time to consider the moment.

“My birthday is often when I take space to get clear on what I need, and I was feeling really unsatisfied with the fact that, even as a health practitioner, I haven’t been able to unpack this whole work-life balance thing,” says Sherwood, CEO and owner of Sapphire Day Spa and Sattva Spa. 

“There’s always so much to do and not enough time to do it. I needed that to stop. I needed to reconnect to myself.”

Sherwood was in the midst of experiencing a phenomenon Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann calls JOMO: joy of missing out. While passing up opportunities may not, at first, seem like a laudable goal, it’s one Brinkmann has dedicated his life’s research to in an effort to show the value of finding contentment with what we have — not what we feel we must do. 

Missing the big picture 

In a society running itself ragged with tasks, to-do’s, bucket lists and endless social media feeds to validate it all, actively missing out is a counter-culture movement to the popularized FOMO (fear of missing out), and it’s harder than it sounds. Brinkmann writes in his book The Joy of Missing Out: The Art of Self-Restraint in an Age of Excess, that not doing things rubs against our cultural norms — and our very nature.

“We are all supposed to be proactive, assertive and constantly self-developing, reading self-help books and taking self-development courses,” says Brinkmann, emphasizing the dire impact this has on both our planetary and internal ecosystems.

“In recent times, however, there have been few philosophical or scientific studies of the ethical value of moderation.” 

Caught up in the swirl of productivity, Sherwood was given her own stark wakeup call in May 2019, when her recently established Sattva Spa was badly damaged by the Plaza Hotel fire, which crippled multiple downtown businesses. It wasn’t in the plan, she says, but it forced her to re-evaluate what she was doing. 

“In that moment, realizing my dreams were literally going up in smoke, I was suddenly aware of how much I had taken on as our model expanded, and I had to get clear on why I was doing this,” she says. 

“Overdoing anything creates fragmentation and, as I tell my clients, when life is becoming a routine of tasks, you’re not really living anymore. Until you can connect to yourself again, you’re not going to be able to connect to anything else.” 

Moving away from “more”

Kristin Schnurr was also looking for a life that aligned more deeply with what she wanted. She and her partner were constantly seeking time in nature, but with busy jobs, dizzying schedules and a newborn, “play” was getting harder to reach. 

Schnurr, a naturopathic physician, decided to move her family, and her downtown practice, to a farm deep in the heart of West Saanich — risking her client base and her connection to the community she loved. Yet missing out on the faster pace offered her a chance to raise her family, her business and her food in a space that supported her values and wellness.  

“We wanted to simplify things, and we knew immediately we’d made the right decision,” says Schnurr, who often sees clients seeking their own relief from chronic overwhelm. 

“Life out here is still really full. We have two little girls, land that requires tending and a full-time business. Yet saying no to what we didn’t want, and yes to what we did, allowed for some spaciousness. Part of finding that spaciousness is realizing it’s there internally, even when life wants to pull you in other directions.” 

Brinkmann says what we say “no” to is often as powerful as what compels us to say “yes.” The act of disengaging to focus on what really brings us joy is key to our wellness and true growth.

“Generally speaking, most people understand the beauty of dropping the intricate and complex, and focusing instead on the simple,” he says. “[But] we must choose to opt out — to miss out on most things — in order to be able to see something.”

Finding the “yes”

Brinkmann’s work could be taken as a call for mindful behaviour, but he also believes that living in a largely secular society, with a YOLO (you only live once) mentality, forces people into anxious states as they desperately try to fit in all the options life has to offer.

Andrea Minter feels lucky her career was never an overwhelming choice. Minter is the co-owner of Victoria’s Russell Books — a literary treasure trove packed floor-to-ceiling with thousands of titles. Minter comes from a long line of booklovers who weren’t always judicious. It was Minter’s grandfather, Reg Russell, who started the bookstore in Montreal when his wife would no longer allow their home to be overrun with books. 

When Russell opened his first store in the 50s, filled with hand-picked titles, it quickly became a new-and-used trading hub for readers as fanatical as the bibliophile himself. Fast forward to today, and Russell’s Victoria store has expanded four times to meet its ever-growing selection and client base. Still, Minter says part of the magic of the store is finding that one special book amidst the masses. 

“There’s a real joy in this work, because all day long we’re surrounded by people finding the exact thing they were looking for, or discovering one they didn’t expect,” she says.  

One thing Minter has always been clear on was her own mission. From the time she was little, she knew she wanted to carry on the family store. She says having that singular focus has brought her a great deal of happiness in the work she’s doing today. 

Letting go of the rest 

Minter’s experience isn’t a common one, Brinkmann may argue, but he would agree that focus makes a big difference. 

“The problem is not so much that we are not always happy … but that we think we should be happy all the time, and constantly chase new ideas and concepts to make us more and more happy,” says Brinkmann. “We may even achieve some degree of momentary happiness, but it is amazing how soon we grow accustomed to it and find ourselves again yearning for more.” 

In his research, he looked into something psychology scientists have described as “hedonic adaptation” — or “the hedonic treadmill” — an experience where people get so used to good and bad things, they gradually cease to consider them good or bad. In other words, we’ve slowly lost focus on what a normal level of life achievement may look like because we’re constantly bombarded with ideals of overachievement: We strive to be the best in a culture that idolizes success.

So how can we step off the treadmill? Schnurr says tuning into our bodies and the intuitive messages they send us is an important first step. 

“We’ve fallen into a culture of overwork, and I think many people are approaching max capacity — which can show up as fatigue, overwhelm, anxiety, immune issues,” says Schnurr. “In order to heal, we need to bring our bodies from an activated, sympathetic (stressed) state to a parasympathetic state: our rest, relax response. That comes from doing less.”

Brinkmann believes that experiencing JOMO requires disciplining our wills. To do that, he pulled tips from fellow psychologist Barry Schwartz who, like Brinkmann, believes in the power of discernment. 

He suggests the following practices for strengthening willpower: 

• Decide when to make a choice (not everything needs to be debated).

• Convince yourself the idea that “only the best is good enough” is nonsense.

• Make your decision irreversible (commit, and let that be that).

• Practice gratitude. 

• Expect to be hooked (there will always be things to sway you).

• Resist the urge to compare. 

• Learn to live with limitations.

Of course, these principals aren’t easy, but the side effect is worth it for people like Sherwood. 

“A question I’ve been asking is, ‘How do we show up authentically?’ To me, that means being really honest with yourself and detangling what’s actually important from what’s just filling up your time,” she says. 

“Maybe we don’t have to get groceries or run all those errands today. If my true goal is to have energy and feel happy, maybe all I need to do is take the pressure off.” 

This article is from the January/February 2020 issue of YAM.