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Blue Monday, Blue Life

Why Blue Monday isn't all that bad...

Apparently today is Blue Monday, which I didn’t know before going on Twitter (#MondayBlues). There’s no scientific basis for Blue Monday (which falls on the 3rd Monday in January every year) except for the fact that it was coined by a psychologist (encouraged by a holiday company). We do know, however, that people’s happiness levels tend to spike over the weekends, only to dramatically drop on Sunday evening, presumably as the dread of going back to work looms over us again. We also know that, despite being generally unhappier during the week, people tend to feel better as the day goes on. So, who knows, maybe by the time you read this, Blue Monday wont feel quite so bad as the holiday companies would like you to believe?

There’s many things I could potentially write about this particularly modern phenomenon: How we’ve replaced seasonal holidays, celebrations and rituals with day-long consumerist gimmicks. How we are quick to find a “scientific formula” for the January blues, even if we know things wont be quite so bad if we just held on until February. How most people are chronically stressed and disengaged in their jobs, yet manage to steadily disengage from their own feelings of dissatisfaction over the course of each working week.

All of these things are worth talking about. But Blue Monday seems a little bit too trivial to merit such lofty concerns. We have, as a culture, adopted it as a somewhat harmless marker in the sand – something to point at and say: “Ha, yeah it is a bit shit in January, isn’t it? And Mondays too! Oh well. Keep calm and carry on...” Without Blue Monday trending on Twitter we might just be feeling shit on our own. At least this way we can put our feelings into perspective, albeit just for one day and with a bunch of strangers on the Internet.

The fact that there is no scientific basis for Blue Monday is no accident. Feeling blue is not something we can neatly confine to one day – or even one month, one season, one year, or one chapter of our lives. Being human requires being blue. It requires darkness as well as light. Sorrows as well as joy. We are, ultimately, vulnerable creatures. We have mortal bodies. We are dependent on others for love and affection. We must compete with others to make ends meat, with a high chance of failure. We craft fragile identities that can crumble in face of rejection. And, as is becoming more apparent with each passing year, we rely on human and natural ecosystems vulnerable to disruption and collapse.

We tend to ignore these things because dwelling on our insecurities does not exactly help us meet our goals and improve our situation. But there’s an important thing that happens when we do. Feelings of mutual pain and vulnerability can, at least momentarily, make us feel more connected. As Brock Bastian shows in his fascinating book, The Other Side of Happiness, moments of shared pain and fragility can bring people together: that work college you see every day but don’t talk to, or that stranger on the other side of the street, can suddenly become a human being – someone with their own inner world of thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams. Another fantastic writer, Rebecca Solnit, has shown that this can happen on a much larger scale too. In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Solnit shows that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, can bring people together in extraordinary ways, where people collectively rise to the occasion with a new sense of community and purposefulness.

I suspect that, as trivial as it may seem, Blue Monday provides people with a very small sense of this coming together – of not feeling alone in their blues, but instead feeling a bit more human. It’s a shame we wont feel quite so human tomorrow…

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