Blue Monday – deemed the third Monday of January - is now a thing. As is using the phrase ‘a thing’. The concept was originally coined in a 2005 press release from a travel company and it was based on a pseudoscientific ‘equation’ that plotted the potential for peak collective despondency.
It took into account factors such as the time elapsed since Christmas (clue: feels like months), the fact the weather is shite, debt is high and, if resolutions have already been broken, motivation is low. Yet it also acknowledged a concomitant feeling of the need to take action… presumably revolving around booking a holiday.
There’s no doubt January can be a drab month. I hate dark afternoons. I leave my tax return until the last minute. And yes, I experience a self-imposed expectation I should sort my life out. This is always a downer because clearly if I’d managed to accomplish that last year, I’d now be revelling in my success instead of sadly hoovering up chocolates with centres that didn’t appeal to anyone over the festive season when the ambassador was really spoiling us. At this point, I’m adrift on a sea of sugar-soaked self-loathing.
However, my friend came up with a great antidote to making resolutions. She asked me to list five things I’d like to do in the coming year that would bring me joy. Not things I want to achieve. Or are sensible. Or courageous. Just stuff to do for the sheer heaven of it. A quintet of quintessential bursts of happiness.
This is a pertinent idea because somewhere along the line, us modern humans have decided that happiness should be a state of mind inextricably linked to a degree of permanence. But given the imperfection of life, this demand is a) mad and b) destined to fail.
‘This demand is clearly mad’
Too often, we find ourselves trying to pin down the butterfly of happiness. To ensnare it. To label it. To put it in a frame for all to see, a strategy that forgets happiness is fluttering, fleeting and rarely cooperates if pursued with a net and a bottle of chloroform. Such dogged determination to experience unfaltering delight is akin to putting happiness in a killing jar. For it is an emotion more likely to manifest when you welcome in air and space and let things go.
To be clear, I’m not talking about living in the moment. Because personally, this isn't a commitment I can make. ‘Live in the moment’, we’re told. ‘All that exists is the now.’ Oh for pity’s sake, we’re not goldfish (in fact, to set the record straight, even goldfish have memories that last months, even years, according to an expert in fish cognition at Macquarie University, Australia).
As humans, ‘the now’ continually pivots around the past and the future. We remember what we’ve been through. And we plan ahead, particularly key if you want to see ABBA Voyage or Micky Flanagan live. Or book a non-emergency GP appointment this side of March.
A more realistic idea to bring balance to Blue Monday - and all the other blue days of the week that might (will) arise during the year - is to give ourselves permission to stop judging the status of whatever brings us bliss. Sure, it might be something grand or sensational, but equally, it could be simple or silly.
For instance, when I look back at moments of unbridled enjoyment, some are once-in-a-lifetime events such as seeing polar bears in the Arctic, although another one is clearing out my cutlery draw while watching Bargain Hunt. Sure, the polar bear spotting will garner me social (and social media) cred. But if de-staining my teaspoons gives me the jollies, who cares?
Which is how last week, I came to be singing Dolly Parton's Jolene in a choir because learning to sing is one of my nominated five-a-year jumps for joy. Cue signing up to Rock Choir as a soprano and performing fun twiddly bits whenever the altos carry the melody. Tears came into my eyes, partly because the pleasure seemed so pure at heart, but also because it reminded me of my teenage past.
Suddenly, I was back in my old bedroom circa 1975, hearing Jolene on a scratchy radio. At that time, I had flaming locks of auburn hair and ivory skin, which sun cream ads – and most of the 3rd year at school – were in full agreement was the crappiest of all physical combinations. And yet here was Dolly, belting out that not only were these features attractive, she was positively scared of their power. Gosh, I went to sleep happy that night. And at 60, here I was, merrily singing the same country anthem all the way home.
So on that note, I wish you many Cheery Tuesdays. Now I must dash...those boring chocolates won’t eat themselves.