Your Commute Could Be Killing Your Happiness
Study says if you want to be happy, change your commute or change your attitude
Posted Jun 30, 2015
It’s a decision that almost everyone finds themselves faced with at some point—accept a job that pays more money even though it requires a longer commute, or stay in your current position. A lucrative opportunity that appears to be the key to success can be tempting, but research shows the detriment of a longer commute may outweigh the benefits of earning more money.
The Link Between Your Commute and Your Life Satisfaction
A new study conducted by Canada’s University of Waterloo discovered a direct link between commute time and well-being. The findings, which were published in World Leisure Journal, conclude that people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life.
The study found that commute lengths were linked to a sense of time pressure. People who spent the most time on the road experienced higher levels of stress because they constantly felt hurried. Many of them spend much of their time on the road worrying about all the activities they’re missing.
Traffic congestion tops the list for reasons why commuters experience increased stress. Surprisingly, the lack of physical leisure time was a close second. Commuters who were still able to make time for physical activity—like going to the gym or taking a walk—were able to combat some of the negative effects of a long commute.
People with rigid work hours and lower incomes were particularly susceptible to decreased life satisfaction associated with long commutes. Women and individuals with a partner also experienced a greater negative impact due to the stress associated with time away from family.
Physical and Mental Health Problems
Commute times also take a toll on physical and mental health. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine linked longer commutes with poor cardiovascular and metabolic health. The more time people spent in the car, the more likely they were to be overweight and have high blood pressure—much in part because they have less time to exercise.
A 2011 study published in BMC Public Health found similar results. This study also linked lengthy commutes with decreased energy, increased stress, and higher illness-related work absences. Results were the same regardless of whether people drove or used public transportation to get to work.
Diminished Social Activities
Since there are only so many hours in a day, people with long commutes are often forced to give up a variety of social activities. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people with longer commutes were less likely to spend time with friends. Longer hours away from home also meant they were more likely to miss children’s school activities and less likely to eat dinner with friends and family.
Adults commuting 90 or more minutes each day had the fewest social engagements. The decreased time with friends and family contributes to higher rates of stress and decreased life satisfaction.
Making the Most Out of Your Commute
There is evidence that a longer commute may benefit select groups of people. A 2005 study published in Transportation Research reports the key to an enjoyable commute is using the time as an opportunity to create a mental shift between home and work. If you can use your drive to help you leave work issues behind, you may be more relaxed when you arrive home.
A 2008 study published the Journal of Transport Geography found that commutes can be beneficial when people view the time as a break from other commitments and responsibilities. Engaging in pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, enjoying the scenery, or simply being alone with your thoughts may help you view the commute as leisure time.
Despite the risks to life satisfaction, not everyone has the opportunity—or even the desire—to telecommute or work close to home. If reducing your drive isn’t an option, changing your attitude can combat the negative effects of a long commute.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a best-selling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages. For more information on her personal story behind the book, watch the book trailer below.