Is the Infamous “Blue Monday” a Real Thing?

It's the supposed "worst day of the year." But is it just a PR stunt?

A lonely man standing in the middle of a surreal landscape.
So what if this Monday is the pits? Let's embrace it together.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Back in 2005, a Cardiff-based academic named Cliff Arnall attached his name to a press brief distributed by since-shuttered Sky Travel. The UK travel company was launching a campaign intended to convince seasonally-depressed Brits to book a trip to paradise, centered around “the worst day of the year.”

In the press release, Arnall pegged it to Jan. 24, a Monday that year, which he evidently landed on using the following equation:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ
                          M x NA

The seven variables represent: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quitting one’s resolution, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action. If it seems like utter nonsense to you, that’s because it is.

What followed was a bizarre saga in the history of the already very bizarre PR industry — a number of scientists pointed out that the “equation” was farcical malarkey, a Guardian columnist confirmed that Sky Travel associates had offered a lot of people a tiny sum of money to validate their project, Cardiff distanced itself from Arnall (pointing out he was only ever a low-level tutor).

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Lost in that mid-aughts mess, though, is the fact that at the core of the Blue Monday campaign is a solid CTA. Perhaps not to book a trip to Barbados, but certainly to acknowledge that yeah, the third or fourth Monday in January is a grim and grey time (for Northern Hemispherians, anyway), and there are things you can do mitigate the miserable mood it will probably put you in.

Arnall actually spent the next 15-ish years of his life trying to convince people that they could persevere through rock-bottom January, punctuating retweets of people exercising in the cold or reading poetry with the hashtag #StopBlueMonday.

Though the preponderance (and validity) of seasonal affective disorder has been questioned by health legislators, Arnall’s equation variables contain more than a kernel of truth. This is a time of year that we tend to take on more than we can chew, making grandiose goals in the realms of physical or financial health, then begin to recognize our shortcomings, then feel bad about ourselves. Oh, and it’s cold and wet the entire time.

Instead of trying to craft a perfect year during a period when all the days suck, though, what about just trying to have one good day? Blue Monday is slated for this upcoming Monday, a fact I learned, deliciously, from a publicist. (She was pitching a scarf knitting kit.)

As easy as it is to revel in the contrivance of a “worst day” equation, it’s somewhat empowering to accept the designation as fact, and meet it head-on, by designing a day that actually stands out from the other 364. Maybe that means going somewhere warm. Maybe that means knitting a goddamn scarf. But I think it just means living thoughtfully and intentionally. Read a book, walk through the park, call someone and talk to them for eight minutes.

If you can embrace our supposed worst days, and build up behavioral changes from there, just imagine where you’ll be when the third Friday in June rolls around. According to Arnall (by way of an ice cream company), that’s the very best day of the year.

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