Why 'Blue Monday' was (not) the most depressing day of the year

Why 'Blue Monday' was (not) the most depressing day of the year
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

An established concept in much of the Western world, the third Monday of January, is known as Blue Monday, which is supposedly the most depressing day of the year – yet the science behind the phenomenon does not hold up at all.

While the cold (and often rainy) January weather, short days and Monday blues may very well give you a depressed feeling, there is nothing to prove that the start of the third week of the year is effectively more depressing than any other day.

"You have probably heard that Blue Monday is the most depressing day of the year, but that is not true," science communicator Lieven Scheire explained on his 'Nerdland' podcast. "Blue Monday, the international day for using pseudoscience for marketing purposes would be more correct."

Beating the January blues

The concept of Blue Monday is based on pseudoscience and stems from a marketing stunt by British travel company Sky Travel. In 2005 they paid former British psychologist Cliff Arnall at Cardiff University, who then came up with a supposedly mathematical formula.

The fact that this specific Monday would be so depressing, Arnall said, was due to a confluence of events: the grey weather, the short and dark days, the New Year's resolutions that have already been given up, the cosiness of Christmas that seems far away and the financial hangover that remains after the holidays.

On a Monday, at the start of the working week, all these things hit especially hard, said Arnall, who he even had a formula to prove it.

In this theory, W stands for weather, D for debt, d for monthly salary, T for the time since Christmas and Q for the time since the failure of your New Year's resolutions. M symbolises low motivational levels, and Na the feeling of a need to take action.

However, none of these units is defined, and the lack of any explanation for what exactly is meant by "weather" or "low motivational levels" means the formula cannot verified, rendering it meaningless.

Additionally, not only did Arnall come up with the formula, but he also had a ready-made solution to fight the blues: the very best thing to combat Blue Monday, he said, was to book a holiday.

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"The long and short of it is that Blue Monday was made up by Sky Travel, because they wanted to sell more trips to the sun in late January, when people typically start thinking about booking their summer trips," said Scheire. "Complete bullshit."

But scientific or not, Blue Monday became a real marketing stunt. After the travel company, a lot of other companies started using the concept to market their products – from alcohol and clothes to gym subscriptions and, apparently, metro tickets.

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