The Damaging Myth Of Blue Monday

18th January 2018

So you survived Christmas and now you’ve got through January. Like many people you probably dreaded one day in particular – the now infamous Blue Monday, which is meant to fall on the third Monday of January and is apparently the most ‘depressing day of the year’. This year it fell on the 15th of January. How did you find it?

Did you moan more about the weather, the fact that Christmas is over or that your New Year’s resolutions are already going down the pan? Well we’ve got news for you, if you had a bad day, you may have been manipulated into having a bad day!

We are by no means unsympathetic about the January blues as it’s true that the fun of Christmas is over, the cheery decorations packed away and your credit cards are groaning under the weight of Christmas debt. More seriously, for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depressive condition caused by lack of exposure to sunlight during winter, January indeed can be a depressing time. We would never dismiss such issues but the concept of one specific day being marked consistently as the most depressing day of the year is nonsense. Particularly when it comes to the so-called maths involved!

Blue Monday, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a recognised ‘thing’ and most people will have heard of it without having any clue as to why it is a ‘thing’ or how it even got started. Few people are aware that like many other collective modern ‘ideas’, Blue Monday as a concept was fabricated in 2005 purely for marketing purposes.

For example, did you know that the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was only created in 1939 as a free giveaway to generate PR for an American department store?

Blue Monday was created by holiday company Sky Travel who created their own ‘formula’ to determine the most depressing day of the year in order to encourage people to start booking holidays abroad.

They did much of the ‘research’ themselves and commissioned PR company Porter Novelli to find a psychologist who would put their name to it. Dr Cliff Arnall, who was at the time working as a tutor at a Further Education centre affiliated with Cardiff University and who was also reportedly on the payroll with Porter Novelli, completed the formula and backed it’s validity.

The Guardian later reported that "Cardiff University has asked us to point out that Dr Arnall was a former part-time tutor at the university but left in February" meaning they didn’t wish to put their name to a concept considered to be ‘psuedo-science’.

This is the original formula presented by Arnall to justify his choice of Blue Monday.

Where W=weather, D=debt, d=monthly salary, T=time since Christmas, Q=time since failing our new year’s resolutions, M=low motivational levels, and Na=the feeling of a need to take action.

The formula doesn’t provide any units of measurement for any of it’s variables so it’s impossible to figure out how to apply it accurately. Not only that, but how can you easily measure subjective factors like ‘low motivational levels’ or ‘the feeling of a need to take action’ in the general population without a huge amount of genuine research and data collection in the form of questionnaires and a scoring system? You can’t.

Dr Dean Burnett, neurosciencentist and genuine Cardiff University lecturer says there are so many reasons to dismiss the formula as nonsense.

“Firstly, the equation wasn’t the result of some psychological study by a reputable lab, but conducted by a travel company, who then fished around for a psychologist to put his name to it, to make it seem credible.”

He describes the equation itself as “scientifically ridiculous” confirming that “It combines things that have no quantifiable way of being combined, debt level, time since Christmas, weather, motivation – the equation combines all these things, but that’s not possible.”

“It’s like a maths problem that goes ‘43 – 12 + the colour red x mouldy cheese – the theme songs from Friends =…’ It’s impossible to solve this because all the individual components are so different and have no compatibility with each other.”

Now don’t get us wrong, we are not averse to having fun with imaginative formulas – we have previously covered a formula for the perfect flight, doughnut, pancake, cream tea and even mince pie. Most of these were also commissioned by companies but contained quantifiable units of measurement and were calculated in their entirety by the wonderful Dr Eugenia Cheng, a well-respected senior lecturer of mathematics at Sheffield University.

Dr Eugenia Cheng

We have always recommended that these formulae were taken with a pinch of salt but when it comes to the Blue Monday formula we recommend ignoring it completely. It began as a dubious marketing exercise but has sunk into the public consciousness and even worse took on a life of it’s own, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. You think it’s going to be an extra depressing day and therefore it becomes so as you are more likely to notice negative factors and exaggerate low mood.

In 2010 Cliff Arnall who now calls himself a “happiness guru”, even released a statement admitting that the very concept was "not particularly helpful" as it indeed can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and that happiness and good mental health was a year-round aim. This is reinforced by mental health charity Mind who call the concept “dangerously misleading”.

Dr Aranll says "I'm pleased about the impact it if it means people are talking about depression and how they feel but I'm also encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day and to use the day as a springboard for the things that really matter in your life."

Sadly, a quick search on Twitter revealed it is still being used as a marketing tool by many companies who had nothing to do with the original press release, especially by those in the travel business.

On the bright side, due to the efforts of organizations like Mind, there is now a push to ‘reclaim’ the day and make it a symbol of positivity and awareness of genuine mental health issues and depression. So at least something good has come out of such rubbish! It just shows though how maths can be manipulated to serve negative and misleading agendas and we all should be more aware and more vigilant against such pseudo-science and pseudo-maths.