January 15, 2024

A textural image of a rock and moss with the words "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
5/20 11:33:17 UTC

Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year statistically speaking, was created by enterprising marketers trying to sell escapism (vacations) from your failed resolutions and depth-of-winter-doldrums. While they nailed it by naming their campaign after the best-known New Order song, they failed in creating a total mess of a fake holiday on the same day as a real one: MLK’s birthday.

Or did they?

Martin Luther King, Jr. opened the world’s eyes to the evils of identity-based discrimination and economic exploitation, and today there’s a growing awareness that these are the root cause of mental malaise. Sure, the sun setting at 4:00PM doesn’t help, but social structures that prioritize individualism, competition, and precarity only make it worse.

And pathologizing and personalizing your unhappiness to sell you a palliative —  more pills, a vacation or even a jacket — turns out to be big business. When the happiness from that purchase fades, it’s back on the treadmill of overwork, anxiousness and depression until the next fix.

Fortunately, King redirects us away from this dark path and towards an alternative world, which he called the “Beloved Community.”  In the Beloved Community, love and compassion reign supreme. It’s a vision of a more equitable and just society, with decency and sufficiency for all, one that values human lives and our fragile natural world, and one in which each of us discover what we can contribute to one another, rather than dwelling in our own sense of lack and imperfection.

Demonstrators protesting the right to vote and equal civil rights at the March on Washington in 1963
Demonstrators protesting the right to vote and equal civil rights at the March on Washington in 1963

Recolored photographs from the 1963 March on Washington. 

What if you saw worries that you aren’t svelte, savvy, or sunny enough as symptomatic — not of something wrong with you — but of a society that puts profit over people?  On MLK day, individual mental suffering becomes a gateway to solidarity and social change — to the Beloved Community. And the third Monday in January becomes the day we remember that the antidote for depression is action.