In 2005, a psychologist named Dr. Cliff Arnall published a theory that the third Monday in January is, from a scientific perspective, the saddest day of the year; this day is known as Blue Monday. According to Arnall's analysis, people are prone to the highest bouts of depression and overall melancholy on this particular date. There's just one small problem: Blue Monday is made up. It was originally nothing more than a PR stunt that got picked up by the media, sprouted legs of its own, and ingrained itself as a real fact in the minds of many.
The truth about Blue Monday, however, is a much different story than the "scientific" model claims. Based on what is widely regarded as pseudoscience, the idea was originally intended as a promotional campaign to inspire people to book vacations with a travel provider. It didn't take long for more seasoned scientists and mental health professionals to scratch beneath the surface of the Blue Monday "formula" and reveal it for the fraud it is.
A PR Team With No Math Or Medical Psychology Background Made Up The Formula
Sky Travel, a now-defunct travel channel owned by British Sky Broadcasting, was the mastermind behind Blue Monday. The business sent out a press release in 2005 saying they had devised an algorithm that determined the third Monday in January was the saddest day of the year. Their goal? To get the public to escape the blues by buying summer vacations through Sky Travel. A goal that, when you really think about it, doesn't hold up under much scrutiny. Most people know that a vacation won't suddenly stop sadness or magically cure depression. Wherever you go, there you are - perhaps someone should have told Sky Travel.
Still, Sky Travel's plan worked. After coming up with a catchy formula, the PR team went out to several scientists, asking them to attach their names to the "study" for validity; many turned down the offer. Cliff Arnall agreed to sign off on the bogus formula.
The 'Formula' Used To Determine Blue Monday Is Hogwash
Above is the equation devised to push the Blue Monday agenda. The variables are as follows:
W=weather, D=debt, d=monthly salary, T=time since Christmas, Q=time since failing new year's resolutions, M=low motivational levels, and Na=the feeling of the need to take action.
You don't have to be a mathematician to know that there are no quantitative or absolute numerical values for all of these variables; none of these items can be pinned down, at least not enough to assign them a fixed (or fixed-ish) number. For example, the weather isn't the same on the third Monday of every January, we don't all carry the same amount of financial debt, and we all have different levels of motivation. Details are important.
Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre analyzed Cliff Arnall's "formula," and what he found is revealing:
"The fact is that Cliff Arnall’s equations are stupid, and some fail even to make mathematical sense on their own terms. In fact it’s not surprising that these equations are so stupid, because they come from the PR companies almost fully-formed and ready to have [scientists’] name attached to them."
Also, Arnall changed his formula frequently, with different equations popping up in 2005, 2006, and 2009. How can we trust the conclusions when the formula used to arrive at those conclusions is constantly changing?
Dr. Cliff Arnall Admitted The Formula Has No Meaning Whatsoever
Given the vociferous criticism of the pseudoscience behind Blue Monday, you'd think its creator would want to defend his work. But Dr. Cliff Arnall, the man who came up with the science of Blue Monday, has pretty much admitted that it's meaningless:
"I'm pleased about the impact it if it means people are talking about depression and how they feel but I'm also encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day and to use the day as a springboard for the things that really matter in your life," he said.
The Creator Of The Blue Monday 'Formula' Was A Part-Time Tutor, Not A University Psychologist
When Sky Travel's press release first touted Blue Monday, the man responsible for this (ahem) breakthrough was credited as a Cardiff University psychologist. Most people assumed this was a university-level professor or researcher - you know, someone with the academic chops to carry out such a major research project. But once Blue Monday came under scrutiny, the truth was revealed. Dr. Arnall was not a Cardiff University professor. He was a part-time tutor at the school, and he had left his position the previous February.