It’s banal. It’s cynical. It lacks all credibility. Yet somehow Blue Monday has become an actual thing, a date that registers on our cultural calendar and even has its own Wikipedia page. This is the day, usually the third Monday in January that Psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall showed to be the most miserable day of the year. Beginning life as a press release by Sky Travel in 2005, the history of Blue Monday has been much discussed by PR watchers. Arnall’s research comes straight from the land of Lilliput. The good doctor purportedly sold his name to the agency that drafted the phoney study; his affiliated institution, Cardiff University, quickly distanced themselves from the pseudo research.
Despite having scientific claims that make Sherlock’s mind palace look like robust cognitive psychology Blue Monday became a handy brandwagon. Then something strange happened. Year after year Blue Monday kept coming back, in increasingly more elaborate iterations. As brands gradually sunk their claws into social media around the turn of the current decade Blue Monday become a trend divorced from its dubious origins. Today we’ve seen themed messaging beyond the obvious brands, from the lofty heights of the BBC and Globe Theatre to (gasp) the British Medical Association. Although some tongues may well be in cheek the sheer ubiquity of the moniker has effectively legitimised the day.
The story of Blue Monday demonstrates the power of an idea to trump the facts. People buy into the notion that the start of an unremarkable week in a bleak month, when you’re broke after Christmas and have used up all your leave until June, is probably the year’s shittiest day. To have a day to acknowledge this low point is an act of solidarity signalling. We are all in it together and, via social media, we are invited to join in the struggle to get to the other side of this 24 hours.
The media remains as complicit as the PRs. This imaginative use of information provides the content on which papers, quality and tabloid alike, depend. Over the summer we conducted our own research (yet to receive Dr Arnall’s endorsement) of the extent to which PR influences the news in four UK red tops. We found that the ratio of PR to original reporting was, on average, 9:1. One story that went everywhere was a report on the psychologically beneficial effects of observing fish conducted by researchers at…an aquarium. It is simply not in the interest of journalism to scrutinise their stories too closely.
The principle behind Blue Monday is as old as storytelling itself. You latch onto people’s hopes and wishes, fears and worries, and attach a spuriously rationalised moment that provides vendors with a window in which to capitalise. Historically we haven’t needed Twitter to reduce our calendar to itemised moments. The creation of Christmas –a day that notionally celebrates an unauthenticated birth of a possibly fictional miracle worker- is only a more established version of Blue Monday. Give it a few more years and perhaps the latter will also have its own decorative tat and festive songs (a New Order hit springs to mind).
If you don’t care for Blue Monday have no fear. According to national-awareness-days.com tomorrow is National Popcorn Day and next Monday we can all join in with international bubble wrap appreciation day. Whoever said January was dull?