New Year’s resolutions and Blue Monday – could this be a recipe for those January blues?


Monday 16 January is here again! Thanks to Sky Travel (back in 2005), the third Monday of January is ‘officially’ the saddest day of the year. Sort of.  

It’s commonly held that mood is worse on Mondays, gradually improving across the week until we hit Friday (TGIF). There is definitely a shift in mood between weekdays and weekends.

Using data from a large national survey in the United States1 research found minimal support for Monday blues. However, there is a great deal more support for winter blues. While seasonal affective disorder is most likely to affect pre-menopausal women, many of us will experience a milder form of this in the winter months – “subsyndromal SAD”2.

The days are shorter, and currently I’m getting up in the dark to go to work. At our latitude, it’s an issue, with the lack of light negatively affecting our internal body clocks and hormonal balance. Worse, Christmas and New Year are over with, and we are counting the pennies with little to look forward to until Spring. So why do we choose New Year as the correct time to change our lifestyles. Is it not doomed to failure? 

We like a fresh start, with 44% of Americans likely or very likely to make a new year resolution – though interestingly, the more northerly Swedes do not (only 12-18% are likely to do so). Do they know something we don’t? Scientific research into new year resolutions is strangely limited.

We do know more about ‘Goal Setting Theory’3, which examines how people set goals, and how the type of goal affects individual motivation. For example, we know that more specific goals are advantageous, and that new year resolutions tend to be too broad in scope. For success it is suggested that multiple goals are needed and a step-by-step process to keep us heading in the right direction.

The trick is to come up with goals that can be achieved. To ‘be healthier’ is not such a goal. It has no clear end date and having a single takeaway may lead to real guilt, even if you are genuinely being healthier over the longer term. This chips away at motivation and invites failure. Cutting down on takeaways is easier than cutting them out and is more likely to be sustained. Plus, there are different types of goals. It is easier to stop doing something than it is to start something new. 

Ultimately, if we choose to take up a new exercise in the cold, dark winter months when we are at our lowest ebb, we may be setting ourselves up for a harder time of it. Instead, time-limited concepts such as Lent are of great interest. To give something up for a specific length of time during the warmer months may be much easier. Pick a meaningful time or event, but whether you want to start something new, or stop something old, I would wait until the sun is shining and the birds are singing before you do. 

Dr James Jackson is a Reader in Psychology at Leeds Trinity University, with research interests that include coping with tinnitus, chronic pain, and stress. 


  1. Arthur A. Stone, Stefan Schneider & James K. Harter (2012) Day-of-week mood patterns in the United States: On the existence of ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Thank God it's Friday’ and weekend effects, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7:4, 306-314.
  2. Levitan, R. D. (2022). The chronobiology and neurobiology of winter seasonal affective disorder. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience.
  3. Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS One, 15(12), e0234097.

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