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    This Mathematical Formula Absolutely Does Not Predict the Most Depressing Day of the Year

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Today is so-called Blue Monday, which has been engrained into popular mythology as “the most depressing day of the year.” That descriptor is supposedly the product of scientific inquiry—Welsh psychologist Cliff Arnall claims to have created the formula above to predict which day of the year is, precisely, the most miserable.

    {[W + (D-d)] x T^Q} ÷ [M x N_a] = The third Monday of the year.


    The International Business Times explains that “According to the formula, w stands for weather, d for debt, T is time since Christmas, Q is time since New Year's resolutions were failed, M for low motivational levels and Na as the feeling of wanting to take action.”

    Ah yes. A combination of bad weather, failed New Year’s resolutions, no new holidays to look forward to, and mounting debt all collide to create a perfect storm of sadness on this very day, The Most Depressing Day of the Year. Blue Monday.

    Except, not. The only depressing thing about Blue Monday is how wholly a PR firm has been able to lodge the notion into the cultural bloodstream.

    See, in reality, Arnall is a shady scientist-for-hire who collaborated on the study with Sky Travel, a corporation that then spun the whole thing into an ad campaign. Don’t let Blue Monday get you down! Plan your vacation getaway today! Evidently, Arnall is even known to make jokes about how much cash rolls in whenever a corporation uses his name in conjunction with a study. 

    Bad Science’s Ben Goldacre slams the pseudoscience for what it is, and refutes the very notion that there’s any kind of formula that could label any single day as the “most depressing.”

    He writes:

    I reviewed the evidence from over 30 studies over 130 years on the subject last year, in an act of performance anality. Some find more suicide in spring and early summer, some in spring and autumn, some in summer only, some find no pattern at all. Many have sampled representative individuals from a population and followed their mood over a year, finding: more misery in summer, more in spring, more in winter, or no peak at all. Antidepressant prescriptions have been tracked a few times (they peak in spring, or in February, May and October). GP consultations for depression peak in May-June, and in November-January (you get the same pattern with osteoarthritis consultations, oddly). Admissions for depression peak in autumn, or spring and summer, while 8 studies found no seasonal variation at all. So Blue Monday does not put a catchy name on a simple human truth: in fact, it only really shows us how easy it is to take an idea that people think they already know, and then sell it back to them. Even if it’s entirely false.

    Blue Monday is, like climate change denial, a product of pseudoscience that’s been bankrolled, branded, and thrust upon the masses with enough momentum to topple any credible scientific protestations. It’s science in service of capitalism; science stretched up and over to fulfill a marketing gambit. It’s not science.

    But it doesn’t matter, because in our humble age of hyper-misinformation, a catchy slogan paired with the impression of authority and the ad bucks needed to spread the word is enough. If it hits, eight years later, travel agencies, hungry bloggers and headline writers everywhere will still be keeping the scientifically bankrupt myth alive. Call it the inertia of well-mythologized pseudoscience.