Cliff Arnall, the man behind the infamous “most depressing day of the year” equation, has a second equation that states today is the happiest day of the year. It presents itself as complex, but the science underpinning it is surprisingly simple.
Cliff Arnall is the man behind the pseudoscientific equation for the most depressing day of the year, that thing that’s always in the media in mid to late January. I’ve been directly affected (negatively) by the media enthusiasm around this alleged phenomenon. I’ve spoken about this before. At length. I’ve covered it in such depth I vowed never to mention it again, here or anywhere, especially as the media interest in it seems to be waning (relatively).
But then I was suddenly blindsided in the middle of June by Cliff Arnall’s other equation, this one for the happiest day of the year, which is apparently today. It’s on the front of the Telegraph, been given Radio 4 coverage, and who knows where else it will be covered by the end of the day. As expected, my Twitter feed has been filled with people asking me “have you seen this?” all morning. It’s appreciated, it really is.
It might be viewed as an improvement, a happy day rather than a depressing one? But then, if you’re not happy for any reason whatsoever, a total stranger telling you you should be rarely improves matters. This is essentially that on a national scale. It’s the same rubbish, just packaged differently and flogged repeatedly. As my friend Simon put it, Arnall truly is the Vengaboys of science.
However, it is important to view scientific claims objectively, and not let personal experiences and the resultant biases you gain from them cloud your judgement. So, when assessing the scientific validity of this claim that it’s the happiest day of the year, based on an equation devised by a “happiness coach” at the behest of an ice cream company, we should consider the following questions;
• Is the equation, which supposedly combines values for variables like “being outdoors”, “nature”, “social interaction”, “childhood memories” and other things you won’t find on the metric system, scientifically valid?
• Is it even possible for a disparate set of ill-defined variables to occur in a certain way with significant regularity for the majority of people in a complex modern society, to the extent where one day of the year can, in advance, be said to be the “happiest”, with such certainty?
The answer to both of these questions is refreshingly simple.
No No No.
No No No No No No No.
No No No No No No No No No No there’s no limit to the number of times you can say “No” to this.
No. Na. Nein. Non. Nyet. Mhai. Illai. Não. Nee. Ne. Nope. Negatory. Nada. Now way, Jose. Nil. Nu. Nie. Bu Dui. Iie. Nem. Nullus. Nej. Neen.
There may be some science to this after all, because the answer to whether the happiest day of the year equation is credible provides the formula for nitric oxide.
In fairness, actually locating and measuring the scientific credibility of this “happiest day” equation would be quite complex.
However, these equations are clearly media-friendly, rather than scientific, so attempts to point out the lack of any scientific evidence for their validity rarely achieve anything. Rather than emphasise the absence of science behind the claims, perhaps it would be better to get celebrities criticising them, thus having more of a media impact?
So, is it really the happiest day of the year? What do you think, Lord Vader?
Fair enough. Do you agree with your dad? Is it the happiest day of the year for you, Luke?
OK. But given the lack of science in the equation, maybe it’s fairer to ask someone whose very existence isn’t supported by science. Do you think the equation is credible, Zeus?
I’ve probably run this joke into the ground by now. Would you agree, M. Bison?
This may seem like a somewhat frivolous and dismissive attitude to take, but I promise I’m treating the “happiest day of the year” claim with the same respect that the whole thing shows to the field of science.
But it is also an attitude born out of frustration. Despite my longstanding and quite public criticism of them, this seems to have made no difference to the endless media promotion of the happiest/most depressing days as genuine psychological phenomena. People still try to tell me about them as if it’s a real thing that I’d agree with. To give you an idea of how such conversations tend to go, here’s another rotund follicularly challenged scientist reacting exactly as I do in these situations.
So, in conclusion, it’s not the happiest day of the year. But it is the longest, so go outside and enjoy the daylight before it goes away again. Stop reading guff like this, it’ll only make you miserable.
Posted by Dean Burnett