Today is Blue Monday, the day of the year when we're all supposed to be at our most miserable.
The idea is a fairly recent one and was invented in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall as a marketing ploy for Sky Travel, which wanted to boost business. His 'formula' included variables such as the length of time since Christmas, debt, monthly salary and lenght of time since failing a new year resolution – hardly rigorous science.
Arnall has since rowed back on the whole idea, telling the Daily Telegraph in 2013 that the third Monday in January is no different from any other. The day should be used to 'get a bit of perspective' on our lives, he says now.
Blue Monday has become one of those 'zombie' ideas that everyone knows is meaningless but which still gets headlines. It's used to sell everything from holidays to head massages, all in the name of making us feel better about ourselves.
But is there a specifically biblical approach to the Blue Monday phenomenon? Oddly enough, yes. The Bible is full not just of great stories and profound spiritual teaching, but also of practical wisdom. There's even a type of book, 'Wisdom' literature, which gives sound, down-to-earth advice about how to live happily and purposefully. Examples of Wisdom literature are Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs – and in an age when life coaches, self-help gurus and de-clutterers of every description can make large amounts of money telling us how to sort our lives out, it's surely worth reading the Bible for some clues to happiness.
What we find are straightforward injunctions to do the right thing, avoid temptation, be moderate and humble in our expectations and to put God first. These are a world away from the celebrity-driven, me-first gospel of personal fulfilment that is so common today. Instead of the individualism and competitiveness we tend to celebrate, the emphasis is on responsibility to others. So here are eight verses from Proverbs that might help us live better.
1. Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3: 27).
2. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom,. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).
3. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a bandit, and want like an armed man (Proverbs 6:10-11).
4. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness (Proverbs 8:7).
5. The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin (Proverbs 10:8).
6. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25).
7. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs
8. A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid a man who talks too much (Proverbs 20:19).