How Commuting to Work Affects Our Happiness

Today I want to talk about happiness. We humans are not particularly good at knowing what makes us happy, so sometimes we have to be told. The happiness tips that I hear about, they almost all seem to be either obvious, not well supported by science, difficult to implement or to only produce short term gains in happiness, not long term. But there is one thing that I found that hits the golden trifecta here.

It has a measurable, significant, dose-dependent peer-reviewed impact. It’s both actionable and passive, meaning that it’s something that a lot of people can do. Once you do it, it’s hard to undo and it’s nonintuitive, meaning it actually helps to be told because it’s not obvious.

How Commuting to Work Affects Our Happiness

Your commute to work is a huge source of unhappiness, unpleasantness, stress, and even unhealthiness. The commute is rated by most workers as the least pleasant thing that they do every day. The happiest commuters commute by bicycle, the least happy commute alone, in a vehicle by themselves which is, of course, by far the most common way that we commute. Commutes over one hour are linked not just to stress, but to chronic pain and to high cholesterol. People with long commutes are also less likely to have time for physical leisure, and on average spend less time with friends.

How Commuting to Work Affects Our Happiness

We often do not consider the magnitude of impact that our commute will have on our lives when we’re making big decisions like where we will work and where we will live. Moving closer to work even if it means living in a smaller or more expensive or both place is often the far better decision for personal happiness, even though the effects of the larger house or the more money or the better job seem far more present in our minds. The blankness of the commute, this lost time, it’s not easy for our minds to consider. According to one study, freeing up an hour-long commute was the same happiness gain as going from a $60,000 a year job to a $100,000 a year job.

People with the longest commutes in one study were found to have the least amount of satisfaction with their lives. While owning a home or moving to a bigger place has been found to have no long-term impact on average happiness. Of course, the ability to choose a longer commute is a luxury in itself, a luxury that is not available to everyone. Which is why it’s also important that we allow our cities to grow in more dense ways. And that those who live in established neighborhoods that are close to where people work don’t fight to prohibit dense development, which in the course of trying to protect the character of our neighborhoods we often do.

If there’s no new inventory nearby for a job, there will always have to be more commuting into the jobs. This is bad for the environment, but it’s also bad for the people who have to drive 90 minutes each way to work. Research continually indicates that happiness is not about what we have but about what we do with the individual minutes and hours and days of our lives. And that can be, surprisingly, hugely affected by the decisions that we make in urban planning and how we build our cities. And also the individual decisions that individual people make, often using faulty decision-making processes that our brains aren’t really designed for. So just remember that, on average, spending upwards of 10% of your waking hours alone in a car, even if you do have the company of Dear Hank and John, should be avoided if it can be.

As found on Youtube

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