If you woke up this morning feeling thoroughly fed up with life in general, it could be because today is officially the most depressing day of the year – a day dubbed ‘Blue Monday’.
Falling on the third Monday in January, the concept of a ‘most depressing day’ was first dreamed up and promoted in 2005 – as part of a marketing campaign by a holiday company. To be fair, it was a sound marketing ploy, getting people to book a holiday and thereby give themselves something to look forward to on what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly gloomy day.
In a bid to lend some ‘scientific legitimacy’ to the campaign, the holiday company commissioned a respected university academic to determine just what was the most depressing day of the year, and why it was. Dr Cliff Arnall, at that time a tutor at the Centre for Lifelong Learning attached to Cardiff University, devised a novel formula for predicting the grimmest day of the year.
It took into account factors such as post-Christmas bills rolling in, the buzz of the Christmas and New Year holidays having worn off, failing New Year resolutions, lack of motivation, short days and miserable weather, the length of time to the next bank holiday… and so on. According to his equation, the most misery-filled day would typically fall on the third Monday in January, henceforth dubbed ‘Blue Monday’.
Serious academics were quick to rubbish his formula as ‘nonsensical pseudoscience’, and even Cardiff University took steps to distance itself from Dr Arnall’s concept, but the notion of Blue Monday somehow struck a chord with the Great British public. They were indeed feeling at a low ebb in mid to late January and, despite the shaky scientific foundations of Blue Monday, it seemed to resonate with them.
It soon featured prominently in social media posts, not just in the UK but spreading across the northern hemisphere. Perhaps more importantly, other advertisers latched onto the idea. Falling in the fallow period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, ‘Blue Monday’ gave advertisers a valuable new marketing ploy to seize on. Whatever product they were selling, from new season fashions to comfort foods, it could surely be promoted as a way to combat the Blue Monday blues!
Fifteen years on from its inception, the idea of Blue Monday is now ingrained in popular culture, even printed on some calendars. Some retailers, both online and in the real world, stage Blue Monday ‘flash sales’, offering special discounts for 24 hours to help people beat the blues with a little ‘retail therapy’, by snapping up a bargain.
As the originator of Blue Monday, you might imagine Dr Arnall is all about doom and gloom, but far from it. He went on to run happiness and confidence sessions for large organisations such as the NHS and the Department of Work and Pensions, giving people strategies to improve motivation and job satisfaction in themselves and others.
Working on the basis that for every negative there is a positive, Dr Arnall was also commissioned (this time by an ice cream company) to come up with a formula for the happiest day of the year. In 2005 it fell on June 24th and it has been around that date in mid to late June ever since. It is usually on a Friday – just before the weekend – and close to the longest day of the year, giving more opportunity for outdoor leisure pursuits, hopefully in the sunshine.
Dr Arnall insists people can cheer themselves up on any day of the year – even Blue Monday – not necessarily by booking a holiday, but by focusing on things they can change. He suggests people can use Blue Monday as the starting point for making an improvement, whether it is to their health, career, relationships or any other aspect of their life.
“The easiest way to be happy is spending more time with people who love you and like you as you are,” he said.