Beat Blue Monday

You can Beat Blue Monday in January...

Ceci ne’st pas Blue Monday: What proof is there that Blue Monday is the most depressing day of the year?

Blue Monday has been described by campaigners as symbolically ‘the most depressing day of the year’. It is supported by Andy Green, who runs the campaign on a completely non-commercial basis. He happens to think it is a good idea and has potential to raise create interest in mental health and well-being issues.

Yet the original idea was not even Andy’s 

How did it come about?

Back in 2005 a London-based public relations agency created a campaign for its tour holiday client, highlighting what it claimed to have found ‘the most depressing day of the year’. The story used a formula devised by Cliff Arnall a former researcher, lecturer and post graduate tutor at the Medical and Dental School of Cardiff University.

Cliff Arnall devised the following mathematical formula:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ

M x Na

The model was broken down using six immediately identifiable factors; weather (W), debt (d), time since Christmas (T), time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M) and the feeling of a need to take action (Na).

The formula inspired the idea as the day being ‘the most depressing day of the year’, when the Christmas glow has faded away, New Year’s resolutions have been broken, cold Winter weather has set in and credit cardbills will be landing on doormats across the land – and the January pay-cheque seems some way away.

Independently, Andy Green, a creativity and brand PR expert got involved with the story by issuing his own response to the media providing motivational tips and advice on how to overcome ‘the most depressing day of the year’.

For 2006 Andy approached the agency which commissioned the original survey. When he discovered they had no plans to repeat the idea he asked and obtained their approval to use and develop their initial idea.

With the further blessing of Cliff Arnall he developed the concept and brand of ‘Blue Monday’, highlighting the third Monday in January as symbolically ‘the most depressing day of the year’. (‘Symbolical’ being a crucial fact here.)

With his professional expertise in memes – ideas and information which is able to replicate itself and a personal interest in mental health issues (Andy’s younger brother is profoundly autistic) coupled with a desire for creating positive good in society, Andy recognised the potential of the situation: to cook a meme which act as a vehicle to promote social good, and as a peg to create attention, discussion and debate around mental health issues.

The idea of Blue Monday has grown and grown into a worldwide phenomena; each year there is global media and social media interest in the story.

Why is this?

The simple answer is that it is because people want it to be.

The beat Blue Monday campaign uses the minimum of resource (just spending about £30 on hosting its WordPress web site and usually just issuing one press release to announce Blue Monday is taking place.

We are witnessing a powerful meme – ideas and information which are able to replicate themselves virally.

Using scientific method you cannot prove an hypothesis from observation, you can only disprove it.

So, where is the evidence that Blue Monday is ‘the most depressing day of the year’?

There is no data to quantify the mood and state of people’s thinking on the particular day of ‘Blue Monday’. (Defined by the psychologist Cliff Arnall as usually being the third Monday of January.)

Although there are some indirect data – one network of life coaches, for example, reported a significant increase in trade in this period – there is no hard ‘fact’ it seems that Blue Monday is the most depressing day of the year.

More significantly, Andy Green believes he has collected ‘data’, albeit of an informal kind: since 2006 the story of Blue Monday has grown and grown in terms of scale of media coverage and its ability to replicate with ease, with just the tiniest of promptings.

The take-up of the story and the ability of the story to replicate itself is indicative of some underlying fact, yet to be defined and validated by data

This, suggests some evidence, of an as yet, undefined mass phenomena, a zeitgeist – a mood of a time.

Cliff Arnall with his initial pinpointing of a date, and the later branding and wider message associated with ‘Blue Monday’ by Andy could unwittingly have been triggers for uncovering an undiscovered phenomenon.

Why is Christmas Day on December 25th? A common held theory is that the early Christians merely piggy-backed on an existing Pagan ritual of celebrating mid winter. Seemingly, our forefathers and foremothers perhaps wanted some cheering up in the middle of a bleak season in the northern hemisphere.

Linking the event of a pagan celebration with another underlying issue created a bigger occasion.  The underpinning rationale was presumably to cheer people up in response to an undefined, no data-collected zeitgeist of people feeling fed up, a feeling of discontentment in mid winter.

‘Blue Monday’ Andy suggest, could merely be a further, perhaps a further tremor on the Richter scale of unhappiness, a minor wave of discontentment, a month after the mid-winter celebrations (now labelled ‘Christmas’).

Perhaps abetted by modern phenomena, such as the monthly pay check, the monthly on-coming of the credit card bill, and a social more of creating New Year’s resolutions, it all helps create a further wave of discontentment.

The additional dimension of many people receiving their December pay cheque on Christmas Eve, is good news for having money for the festivities but bad news in making January a ‘five week month’ in terms of pay: your monthly salary has to extend to a further week.

Sure, there is no data to support this theory. Yet, where is the statistical data to substantiate the theory about mid winter blues timing with the Christmas period?

The idea of a ‘Blue Monday’ may not be understandable to a scientific mind based on evidence, verifiable hypothesis, to arrive at a ‘fact’ which is accepted by the relevant dominant group in society.

We would suggest the potency of the Blue Monday meme – the ability of the story to replicate itself since launched in 2006 is an intellectual touchstone for justifying Blue Monday, offering a clue to a possible Zeitgeist. At present its validation may just be a form of informed common sense

The debate around the scientifically defining Blue Monday has stimulated Andy Green’s interest in a bigger, wider issue. What Andy calls ‘Compound Scientific Illiteracy’ and the need for non-scientists to play a part in promoting greater understanding of science.

He has written an ebook ‘Science Phobia’ – beta copies available on request.

Here, the issues of the facts of emotion, story-telling and how ideas spread all need to be considered. But that is another story.

One further image to conclude with. You are probably familiar with the great surrealist artist Rene Magritte and his work ‘La Trahison des Images’ (The Treachery of Images) or ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). 

In the spirit of Magritte we would declare that Monday January 16th can be described as ‘Ceci est Blue Monday’. But also ‘Ceci n’est pas Blue Monday’ – that’s our hypothesis – and we are standing by it. I am not sure many scientists will be comfortable with this.



This entry was posted on Friday, January 13th, 2012 at 12:31 am and is filed under General News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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