Posts Tagged 'Formula for'

Joy Index, part two: US three times less depressed than Europe

If you find this image of despair stimulating, click on the image to go to “The brokers with hands on their faces blog”

Diligent Talknormalists will recall that, just over a year ago, I introduced the Joy Index to measure the mood of the English-speaking world. The index was compiled by dividing the number of stories in the news media mentioning “joy” by the number mentioning “gloom”. I exclude sports reports, which are fun but produce a transient excess of both; and obituaries, where our joy or gloom at someone’s death would probably owe more to that person than the state of the world.

When the line goes up, we’re becoming more joyful. When if goes down, we’re becoming gloomier. Actually, the index is dominated by gloominess – the amount of joy in our lives, or at least in the newspapers, is remarkably stable.

In the US, the average of the Joy Index was at an unsurprising historical low, just above 2.0, during 2008 – the same level as it reached in the week of the 9/11 attack. In the first week of August 2011 it was all the way down to 1.62.

So, first the good news! In 2012 the US has been, until recently, much less gloomy if we take a monthly average: the TN Joy Index has kept well above 2.0 at all times. Of course, October was a gloomy month. Hurricanes are like that. But, compared to the darkest days of 2008, there’s between two and four times less gloominess in the news:

Meanwhile, in Europe, the English-language press isn’t so optimistic. The index shows there’s about three times as much gloom for each unit of joy as there is in the US. I blame austerity, or maybe socialism:

It is, in the words of the nonsense phrase, a global world. It’s possible that Americans just don’t like to write about gloomy things as much, though that would be a recent phenomenon: last time I calculated the index, there wasn’t this US-Europe split. Most of the time, we are all in it together. When you take the indices in November 2011 as a starting point, the ratio of joy-to-gloom in Europe and the US rises and falls in just the same way (until Sandy in October):

We’re on the same emotional rollercoaster – it’s just that Europeans really, really want to get off. This could be because, more often, the ultra-gloomy news has been happening in Europe. When the index dipped, the three most important topics in gloomy stories were the Euro zone, consumer confidence and Central Banks in Europe, and Euro zone, consumer confidence and monetary policy in the US.

When the index went up, the gloom story headlines showed no strong pattern. Clearly it is better to worry about many things, some of the time, than one thing, all the time.

Think of the upswings in the Joy Index as having a hangover while it is raining outside, your car needs a new gearbox, and a small child has been singing really annoying made-up songs for three hours. Never mind! In the Joy Index downswings, your life would be exactly the same – except the bank repossesses your house as well.

One final point, for those of you who read blogs while wondering, “this is all very well, but what do the markets think?” Since November 2010 the US Joy Index has been a statistically significant predictor of the size of the month-end change in the Dow’s moving average. As I said last time: sell gloom, buy joy.

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Cheer up! Blue Monday will soon be over

I’m not looking forward to 17 January 2010, which at this desk will be known as Crap Sunday, one of the unhappiest days of the year for Talknormalists.

Why is this? Because Crap Sunday comes one day before Blue Monday, the arbitrary media invention of the most depressing day of the year, and so it marks the beginning of the (luckily short) season of pseudo-scientific stories which show that this day is, apparently, mathematically depressing.

If you don't know what this is you missed the 1980s

I’ve written about rubbish equations before, but much to my surprise my blog post alone hasn’t solved the problem. And so this weekend we must hunker down for the annual attack of the idiots.

Look on the bright side. For students of the asinine, Blue Monday 2010 has a lot to offer.

1. There are two Blue Mondays this year. Excitingly, some press releases I’ve seen quote 18 January, some say it’s a week later, on 25 January. This could be a demonstration of how the scientific method means our knowledge advances in small steps; its conclusions should not be taken as revealed truth; they are merely suppositions based on the best evidence that we have today. We should welcome uncertainty as a stimulus for debate and further research.

On the other hand, it might just mean that one PR company timed its campaign a week earlier than the other, and the equation is so vague and subjective that you can fit it to more or less any day of the year if you try hard enough.

2. Who should we put in the stocks and throw fruit at? Dr Ben Goldacre did the real research on this when the equation first showed up. Blue Monday was invented by Porter Novelli (“We have the right conversations with the right people at the right time”) in 2006 for Sky Travel. The idea of the equation was shopped around academics, offering them money if they claimed to have derived it. Dr Cliff Arnall, at the time a temporary lecturer at the Cardiff University Centre for Lifelong Learning, grabbed the opportunity and made some good publicity for himself – though his former employers seem less delighted. He has no genuine insight into the day when you are least happy, but at least he has “Dr” in front of his name. If we could only get a picture of him in a white coat, then Blue Monday would be so much more credible.

3. How do we give depression more pizazz? The question has been asked in a thousand marketing brainstorms. One genuinely sad aspect of Blue Monday every year is the miserable attempt by some PR companies to inject pep into unhappiness by telling us to buy something. Recall that the whole sham was set up to sell holidays; other people use it as an excuse to bung out a lightweight “why not buy this?” press release – just as long as they don’t get too hung up on the depression thing. For example:

Blue Monday is believed to highlight a more general temporary gloominess for a usually more balanced and positive population, says Caroline Carr, hypnotherapist and author of the just published Living with Depression.

General temporary gloominess: translation – “as a therapist, how can I describe this fictional marketing construct as if it was real so that I can plug my book without overstepping any kind of regulatory guidelines.”

Journalists trot out exactly the same Blue Monday feature every year, partly because the end of January is pretty barren if you’re looking to fill the inside of a local paper. You did detox diets, giving up smoking and and gym membership in week one, and it’s not time to do “Put some spark into your love life with these Valentines Day ideas” yet. Those lifestyle pages don’t fill themselves, you know.

I don’t like to miss out on a misery party and so I feel the urge to explain my personal general temporary gloominess with an equation. After as much as 30 seconds of careful research, I came up with this:

Where D is how depressed I will feel

Ci is the number of column inches given to article Ai where i=1, 2, 3, …
E is the number of times they mention that stupid equation
and delta is the number of days that this story lasts

If you want to use my formula in a meaningless and generic story about how journalism bloggers get sad when they read press releases about Blue Monday, please quote me as “Dr Tim Phillips, an expert in disappointment at the Polytechnic of Cynicism”.


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