I’m sure you already know about Blue Monday, the so-called ‘most depressing day of the year’. Originally part of a marketing campaign (the brilliance of which we should perhaps acknowledge), it’s now taken on a life of its own. Each year, without fail, it envelops the internet in a blizzard of claim and counter-claim, as the idea is enthusiastically shared by the credulous and sneeringly dismissed by the cynical.
Even ‘pseudo-science’ flatters Blue Monday, which is an arrant fiction dressed in mathematical clothes. But it’s a fascinating fiction all the same, and it resonates with deep emotions and beliefs, especially at this time of year. And that’s why it won’t go away when shown to be false, any more than ghosts or angels will. We need it.
Faith in science is one reason. It would comfort us if the boffins really could show us the causes of our moods. If only we knew why some days seem even darker than they are, maybe it would be easier to get through them. We might still be under the weather, but at least we’d be understood.
Like the common cold, we feel that everyday sadness is something ‘they’ should have worked out by now. The ridiculous Blue Monday ‘formula’, with its spurious variables for time, money, weather and motivation, holds out that promise. And if there’s a formula for sadness, maybe there’s one for happiness too.
Those factors also reflect the array of niggling first-world problems that, in our minds at least, can mount up to more than the sum of their parts. Complaining about them, let alone seeking help, would be wildly inappropriate and un-British, but an amnesty on guilt-free moaning wouldn’t go amiss. Blue Monday is that chance.
Part of the rationale for Blue Monday is that late winter feels so far in time from all our high days and holidays. Christmas is behind us, spring is dauntingly distant and summer feels like a half-remembered dream. There’s only Valentine’s Day to anticipate (or, just as likely, dread).
And this, of course, is precisely why Bue Monday has taken off. Bereft of interest, we latch on to anything that will brighten this dull, dark season; anything that feels like an occasion. Even a ritual internet ding-dong will serve the turn.
Some claim Blue Monday makes light of genuine depression, either by reducing it to mechanical cause and effect or by confining it to a single day of the year. I think this misses the point. It’s not about mental illness, but what they used to call the blues.
Blue Monday is bleakness’s birthday; the anniversay of angst. And that’s why we should nurture it, not try to stamp it out. If it has no scientific basis, why don’t we give it some human substance instead? Let’s declare it an anti-celebration, an unspecial occasion, a grey-letter day. A melancholiday, if you will.
The curmudgeon’s patience is tested by enforced jollity all around the year. But on this great day of days, things will be different. To be down in the dumps will be acceptable, if not expected. Smiths albums will be played, Larkin poems read, moody Swedish dramas watched. Beds will be stayed in, comforting soups eaten, windows stared out of.
Anyone chirping inanities like ‘lighten up’, ‘give us a smile’ or ‘cheer up, it might never happen’ will be ruthlessly ostracised; it could perhaps be permitted to smack them with a frying pan. And when Blue Monday finally draws to its anticlimactic close, we can feel satisfied that sadness has had its day in the pale wintery sun.