Blue Monday: the saddest thing is the bad science

Jan 6, 2014

Most depressing day of the year concept is based on 'farcical pseudo-science', say critics

FEELING a bit sad? Guilty, perhaps? That's perfectly understandable because today is Blue Monday, the most miserable date on the calendar, the Daily Mail reports.

As millions of Britons return to work - many of them on a transport system disrupted by winter storms - the national mood is bleak. There's guilt about the New Year's resolutions that have already been broken and worry over the Christmas credit card bill that needs to be paid.

According to the Mail, social media - that reliable barometer of the public mood - confirms that today is the gloomiest day of the year. After examining more than two million tweets sent by Britons in January, researchers working for a drinks company found there will be nearly five times the average number of tweets relating to guilt today as "people abandon their promises to pursue a healthy lifestyle".

The researchers also found that complaints about the weather will be six times higher than usual today and men will feel more miserable than women. Today has also been dubbed Divorce Monday, because it is the most popular day of the year to begin divorce procedings, the Mail says.

The Blue Monday concept was coined in 2005 as part of a publicity campaign for the TV programme Sky Travel. It was supported by an equation devised by Cliff Arnall, a British "psychologist and life coach", which claimed to 'prove' it was the saddest day of the year.

Arnall's formula uses variables including levels of debt, time since Christmas, bad weather, low motivational levels and "time since failing our new year's resolutions" to identify the bleakest day of the year. But the result is not just "unscientific" says The Guardian's Dean Burnett, it is "gibberish, bilge, rubbish, crap, stupid, and any other polite way of saying 'utter bollocks' that you can think of".

Despite its origins as part of a marketing campaign and the fact it has been widely rubbished by the scientific community, Blue Monday has become an evergreen story for journalists. Last year, for example, the Daily Mail suggested we will "feel at our lowest ebb" today. "For the 24 hours of Blue Monday we will just have to grit our teeth and have an early night," the paper said.

The Daily Telegraph did its best to cheer up its readers last year offering them a list of things to do to combat Blue Monday depression. The list of remedies, written by Dr Brooke Magnanti, the academic formerly known as call girl blogger Belle de Jour, includeded getting a hobby, investigating spirituality and buying a puppy.

Retailers "love" Blue Monday, said the Guardian, noting that Topshop was urging shoppers to "banish those blues" by buying some new clothes. Juice manufacturer Innocent also rode the Blue Monday bandwagon with a list of "feelgood" films to help banish gloomy feelings and Channel 4 provided a list of cheerful pop songs, books and films despite its admission that the Blue Monday formula is "much hyped and much ridiculed".

The Guardian's Burnett noted there are ways that people who feel "genuinely depressed" can be helped. "But for the record, nonsensical equations are not one of them."

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