It is January, the excitement of the holiday season is a distant memory, it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere and new-year resolutions are beginning to slip.
You may have heard of Blue Monday, the supposed most depressing day of the year. The whole story makes sense, right?
Except it doesn’t. It is pseudoscience.
People are often surprised to find out that the Blue Monday story only dates back to a Press Release from UK-based Travel Company Sky Travel in 2005. The term has been around far longer, but prior to this it never referred to a single day in January.
Even as a PR stunt, at the time it looked fairly legitimate. The release was put out alongside the name of Cliff Arnall, who was described as being a Tutor at Cardiff University, one of the leading research universities in the UK.
The justification for the day (generally reported as the third Monday in January) also looked superficially scientific. Arnall had created a complex maths formula that includes many factors including daylight, weather conditions, and the debt level from Christmas beginning to bite. The formula is presented as follows:
[W + (D-d)] x TQ
M x NA
If you want an explanation as to what the numbers mean, head to this NBC article. But really, don’t bother because it is not worth your time.
Cardiff University was seemingly unhappy about its name being used in the press release. In a statement to The Guardian, they say:
“Cliff Arnall was a former part-time tutor at The University and left in February”
Well, just because Cardiff Uni didn’t want to be associated with the study doesn’t mean it was pseudoscience. What illustrates this more definitively is the man who coined the term (or at least the name behind the study) also saying this.
He has since said it was never his intention to make the day sound negative, but wanted to use the date to “encourage people, where possible, to take a positive outlook on the time of year as an opportunity for new beginnings and change.”
It is worth pointing out that this statement was also for a press release, this time for Virgin Atlantic several years on from the original; so it might be that Arnall is simply chasing the next PR budget?
Regardless, we should be wary about discussing Blue Monday negatively, as it can do far more harm than good.
Shorter days and cold temperatures can negatively affect mood and lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In the UK, up to a third of the population experiences SAD, and Blue Monday may cause an increase in symptoms for people with SAD, depression or anxiety.
Even Cliff Arnall agrees:
“It is not particularly helpful to put that out there and say ‘there you are’ […] it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that it is the most depressing day.”
So, don’t let a misguided marketing campaign bring you down. The third Monday in January is just another day. Instead of surrounding it with doom, put on the New Order track Blue Monday and absorb that 80s nostalgia.