If you live anywhere near cafe chain Pret a Manger, you’re in luck. Today the restaurant is giving out free cups of coffee in honor of Blue Monday, “the most depressing day of the year.”
It’s an excellent marketing gimmick, and an especially appropriate one considering that Blue Monday, itself, is a marketing gimmick.
The so-called day of misery — when everyone is apparently at their lowest — takes place on the third Monday in January of each year. But if you woke up feeling especially low, well, it’s probably because you think you’re supposed to be feeling that way. There’s no scientific validity behind Blue Monday.
Blue Monday was not chosen out of any legitimate research or logic. Rather, it was created in a 2005 press release by the now-defunct British company Sky Travel.
The press release quoted psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, who devised an equation with factors such as “time spent relaxing,” “time spent sleeping” and “time spent in a state of stress” to determine that this exact date is the peak time for pessimism among most of the world. His bummed-out-ness formula is completely invalid, however, as the equation has long since been proven as pseudoscience. In other words, he made some loose assumptions that were scooped up as fact.
Even more significant, Arnall was paid by a public relations firm to create this equation for Sky Travel because the company was looking to drum up travel sales. (hey, you’re depressed today? Book a vacation!). Everyone’s misery, they likely believed, was their gain.
So is there a way to determine what’s actually the gloomiest day of the year? In 2011 Neuroscientist and writer Dean Burnett, an outspoken opponent of the Blue Monday theory, outlined what would actually need to be done for The Guardian:
“For subjects, you’d need a large number of people, probably numbering in the thousands. Let’s say 10,000 a number taken at random. These people would have to represent a reliable cross section of the population, so you’d need people from all age groups, social backgrounds, ethnicities and all that. Different people get down about different things, e.g. a dip in the stock market is likely to have a more negative impact, mood-wise, on a wealthy stockholder than a working class 18-year-old.”
Those participants would then have to monitor their moods on a daily basis for an entire year, at which point the researchers could identify which day, on average, people feel most miserable. And yet, Burnett says, this still wouldn’t be a particularly accurate study — because the next year could bring a new set of miseries and variables that would affect people’s moods. The days that depress people in 2016 might not be the same days in 2017.
Perhaps it would be more accurate, then, to look at the most depressing day of the week, rather than the most depressing day of the year. A recent survey of 2,000 Brits said that, on average, they feel at their lowest on Monday mornings at 11:17 a.m.. But then again, this study was conducted by British broadband provider Plusnet. Companies love misery.
Instead of abiding by surveys, why don’t we all stop looking for excuses to feel our worst and try to find ways to feel our best?