January 16 is Blue Monday. But does it exist? We look at the maths formula behind what is considered to be the most depressing day of the year… and hear that it’s “scientifically ridiculous”
In January many of us make a commitment to becoming better versions of ourselves. After the excesses of the festive period, the booze is banished, diets begin in earnest and hordes clamour to the nearest gym in their shiny new Nikes.
Inevitably, the allure of a ‘dry’ January soon wears off, we’re searching down the back of the sofa for missing Quality Street, and the gym has become a place to avoid.
Received wisdom has it that the realisation our new year’s resolutions are doomed to fail typically hits home on the third Monday of the new year - or Blue Monday as it’s known.
Marketing Mad Men
This year, Blue Monday falls on January 16. But is it real? Or are we being hoodwinked into believing it exists by the Mad Men of the advertising industry, who now use it as a major cash cow?
Before you find a quiet corner of the room to bawl your eyes out in, let’s look at the ‘science’ behind it all.
Put simply, although Blue Monday is acknowledged every year, there is no valid proof that it exists beyond our imaginations.
It was, in fact, a concept invented in 2005 by holiday company Sky Travel as part of its marketing campaign.
The idea was to get potential customers thinking about booking summer holidays to beat off those January blues.
The original 2005 press release claimed to have scientific research, including equations, to back up its claims.
The sum included variables - such as ‘weather’, ‘time since Christmas’, ‘debt level’, ‘motivational levels’ and ‘time since failure to keep new year’s resolution’ - which scientists say aren’t part of the metrical system.
Unsurprisingly, this equation has since been debunked and labelled ‘pseudoscience’ - in other words, it’s a lot of rubbish.
‘43 - 12 + the colour red x mouldy cheese - the theme songs from Friends =’
Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience and Cardiff University lecturer, says: “There are so many reasons to believe it’s 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.”
On top of all this, Dr Burnett says the equation itself is “scientifically ridiculous”.
“It combines things that have no quantifiable way of being combined,” he says. “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.
Dr Burnett is not saying there isn’t a most depressing day, just that to find it would be incredibly long and painstaking, surveying hundreds of thousands of people over many years.
“The things that affect our mood are incredibly complex and vary tremendously from person to person,” he adds. “The idea that a specific set of environmental factors occurs every year on the same day, without fail, and makes the majority of the population miserable, that’s borderline farcical.”
Whether it’s a PR-driven piece of nonsense or not - and let’s face it, all signs point to it being the former - the amount of column inches given to Blue Monday could be tricking our brains into thinking it actually exists, almost like nocebo effect.
“It is indeed possible that constantly telling people it’s the most depressing day of the year will make them more susceptible to bad things happening and triggers for low moods, just like Friday the 13th is viewed as ‘bad luck’,” says Dr Burnett.
“The same things could happen any other day and nobody would make the link, but on that day they’re more aware of bad luck so they blame the date itself, and thus it becomes self-fulfilling.”
Blue Monday or not, here’s something to look forward to, folks… the happiest day of the year is coming up - on June 19.