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Photo by Alfie Sylvest.

I Tried to Eat Myself Happy for Blue Monday

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

On the most depressing day of the year, could celery, banana skin tea, and a Happy Meal cheer me up?

Photo by Alfie Sylvest.

As someone who is frequently struck by the crushing terror of my own existence, I flatly refuse to get owned by Blue Monday. Otherwise known as “the most depressing day of the year,” it usually lands on the third Monday of January, ready to suck the joy from your already very meh life. It also sometimes falls on the second or fourth Monday of January, because, you know, it’s a made-up thing with absolutely no basis in scientific research.

The concept, born out of a press release issued by travel company Sky Travel in 2005, is now only acknowledged by PRs, your extremely vanilla work colleague, and content-hungry journalists. Regardless of the fact that most human consciousness is terrible and sadness is not reserved for that one day in January when the weather’s shit and the only person you’ve spoken to for two days is your postman, Blue Monday has evolved into a capitalist myth designed to sell us weird tea and cheap flights to Tbilisi.

Despite this, placebos are a thing, and if I—along with the entire PR community—believe that everyone must feel terrible on an arbitrary date in January, then I will do everything in my power to avoid it. Instead of spending the day staring at my bedroom ceiling with profound ennui or crying at puppy videos, I decide to fight Blue Monday the only happiness-guaranteeing way I know how: with food.

I start by identifying my own personal array of joyous snacks: mac ‘n’ cheese swimming in Lea & Perrins, those fresh doughnuts you get from cheap market stalls, and Bombay mix. All A+ comfort foods, but I need a pure flow of serotonin to ride out Blue Monday, not just shingles. In search of professional advice, I contact Sarah McKenzie, a renal dietician from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS trust.

She explains over email how eating can affect our mood: “The evidence base for the effect of food on mood is currently quite poor, however, it’s an area of growing interest and more evidence is emerging which shows that nutrition may have an important role in mental health although more good quality studies are required.”

When pushed to name mood-enhancing foods, McKenzie says: “Good nutrition is really important for both mental and physical health. Eating three meals a day is a really good idea, as it will ensure a steady supply of energy to your brain. Include wholegrain starchy carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats as well as food rich in vitamins and minerals.”

Dull, but the right place to start.

Poached Eggs and Tomato on Wholegrain Toast

Conveniently, a few days before Blue Monday when I decide to begin my happy diet, I wake from an extended nightmare about a hotel room filled with women (and a child!) being violently tortured. Hoping to cleanse the screams of a 6-year-old from my memory, I follow McKenzie’s meal advice, starting my day with a dietician-approved breakfast of poached eggs and tomato on wholegrain toast.

Some eggs. All photos by the author and Alfie Sylvest.

Sadly, I live a life under the capitalist machine and am required to exchange labour for goods within a contracted time frame, which means that the pressure to make two poached eggs before work is the antithesis of relaxing. Do you know how fucking hard it is to make a poached egg? I burn the toast while googling “how to poach an egg” and almost drop one down the side of my oven. I have stupidly offered to make my boyfriend breakfast too, and thus find myself attempting to poach four eggs before 8 AM. I am not happy.

In a remarkable twist of fate, I nail the eggs, which gives me an instant boost of joy. Look at my beautiful egg children.

Roasted tomatoes and poached eggs on wholemeal toast.

Chicken Nugget Happy Meal from McDonald’s

Throwing all caution to the wind and totally disregarding any sound nutritional advice, for lunch I decide to proverbially “fuck it” and eat the happiest meal on Earth: a processed cardboard box of meat and potato, a.k.a. the Happy Meal.

Having not eaten a Happy Meal for at least seven years, the excitement of getting not only chips, chicken nuggets, and a milkshake, but a toy too, becomes almost unbearable by 11.45 AM. Despite being full and sufficiently nourished by my poached egg—and also an adult—I’m desperate to cram myself with salty, crispy nuggs while admiring a small plastic Pokemon toy.

A McDonald's Happy Meal and a goddamn PIKACHU.

Taking a suspiciously early lunch, I head out of the office, buzzing at the prospect of tiny children food and a milkshake in 4-degree weather. I arrive at the Liverpool Street Station McDonald’s, having dragged six colleagues with me, only to find that it is closed for refurbishment. Disappointed and hungry, my colleagues abandon me for Sainsbury’s and I walk an agonising 25 minutes alone in the opposite direction to the next closest McDonald’s, making it almost an hour-round trip by the time I get back to the office. Call this ……………...

*extended pause*

Fast food??????

BUZZING WITH HAPPINESS!!!!1!

By the time I acquire my child-sized meal, I am freezing cold, miles away from my office, and distinctly unhappy.

Celery, Banana Tea, and Dark Chocolate

Seeking to reference a broad range of trusted sources in this well-researched and scientifically founded Blue Monday experiment, I turn to the Daily Mail. Here, in this trusted bastion of dietary advice, I find a recipe for banana skin tea, which is meant to make you love Brexit and ooze joy, or something. The instructions are to “boil a washed banana skin in water for 15 minutes, let it cool, and remove the skin before drinking.” Now, dear readers, I am physically repulsed if not actively phobic of bananas, so I am unsure of how happy this one will make me. In fact, I am pretty sure I will end up crying and/or vomiting. After forcing my editor to peel a banana and put its skin in a mug of boiling water, I dunk my tongue in the cup for a quick dash of magnesium, or whatever the hell is in the skin that the Daily Mail thought would help my mood. It is disgusting.

Nah.

Feeling shook and with a burnt tongue, I turn to a piece on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop about “healing foods.” Citing a nutritionist who uses “the voice of a divine force called Spirit … to identify the roots of his patients’ hard-to-diagnose illnesses,” the article calls for celery, which is apparently “the most powerful way to alkalize the gut.” Sick. Feeling heady and weird from being in such close proximity to a banana, I chew on some celery dunked in sour cream and chive dip, because otherwise it would be disgusting, and wait for the divine force to heal my gut.

Some gut-healing celery.

And then I eat some dark chocolate, because it’s just widely accepted that chocolate is the culinary equivalent of a cosy wank on a Sunday morning.

Pizza, London’s Second Favourite Takeaway, and Strawberry Laces

I have an absolutely huge news flash to anyone hoping to perk up their mood with food, and it’s this: eating a lot of food you really like for free is an exceptional way to feel stonking.

According to data shared with MUNCHIES by Deliveroo, the app’s most ordered takeaway in London is a burger from Five Guys, because we are apparently a city with no imagination. Unfortunately, Five Guys doesn’t deliver to our office, so I go for the second most popular takeaway in London, a Katsu curry from Wagamama. Hopefully, I too can share in the collective happiness capital-dwellers feel on a Friday night, all eating mass-produced Japanese curry and falling asleep halfway through a particularly gripping Casualty episode.

I also order a pizza because saucy tomato sauce and stretchy mozzarella make life seem less barren and meaningless, and also it’s Beyoncé’s favourite meal. She seems happy, right?

Wagamama's Katsu curry.
Yas.

Bar having to ward off vulturing colleagues who seem to think that I’d give away pizza for free like a schmuck, my mood is high. I am flying. Life is good. I just ate two dinners before 6 PM.

Me, living my best life.

For dessert, I turn to Twitter for help. What do my followers eat when they’re feeling down? Some weird shit, it turns out. Vetoing suggestions of bourbon creams, cocktail sausages, and fish finger sandwiches, I opt for a fistful of strawberry laces to top off my day of 30 meals and a stewed banana skin tea.

AM I HAPPY?

The day was rocky. I almost got full eating celery. I had a breakdown over an egg at 8 AM. And yet, two pizzas, a curry, strawberry laces, and a Pikachu Happy Meal toy have brought joy and meaning to my otherwise mediocre life of making memes out of old Mad Men clips and bulk-buying olive oil.

Now, just to book those flights Tbilisi and my Blue Monday will be complete.