Commuting to Happiness

That 10-minute walk to work each morning may be my favorite part of the day. Not because I don’t enjoy time with my family, but, as recent research supports, it may be one of the most important factors in my quality of life. Although 1 out of 4 members of the workforce say that their job is the single greatest stressor in their lives and nearly half say workplace stress is so high that it affects their overall health and well-being, there may be a component of work even more miserable than the work itself: commuting. According to Harvard researchers, how you get to work may have an even greater influence on your stress levels than what you do when you get there. And the longer their commute takes, the less satisfied individuals may be with their life in general.

The statistics are astounding. Based upon data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, over 25 million American adults spend more than 90 minutes each day getting to and from their jobs. Nearly 750,000 are spending more than 1/8th of their day (3 hours) sitting on the freeway en route to a place where they don’t even want to be. Two recent surveys paint an even bleaker picture. When Ford Motor Company surveyed its staff, their employees ranked their work commute as the least enjoyable part of their day and more stressful than moving into a new house or visiting their dentist. In another survey, a very direct correlation between work commute length and life satisfaction was found, and participants with the longest work commutes admitted that they were less productive once they got to work. Another study found that in marriages where at least one spouse has a longer (over 45 minute) commute, there is a 40% increase in their chance of divorce.

So, I’m sure you get it: work commuting is bad. Bad for your stress levels and bad for your health. The more time you spend slowly creeping your way to work in a 3,000 lbs. aluminum box, the less you enjoy life. The unfortunate reality is that much of the workforce isn’t in a position to magically make the most miserable time of their day just disappear. Housing in the most bustling areas for business  come at a high cost, and in this day and age it’s a lot easier to job hop then it is to house hop. But, you don’t have to let your morning commute be a dreadful experience. Turning the journey from your bed to your desk into the best part of your day is a few minor steps away.

Find alternatives

Many years ago, while residing in downtown Houston, I decided that I had to reevaluate my commute to improve my quality of life. Those 45 minutes every morning I spent making the 7-mile commute to work resulted in bad moods and losses in productivity, so I decided to make a significant lifestyle change: I parked my car in my garage . . . permanently. As one study showed, some people actually enjoy their commute to work, and those people are cyclists. The benefits of alternate forms of commuting go well beyond saving money on fuel and vehicle maintenance, a little exercise before work can directly improve your mood and work performance, and in many highly congested areas (such as in downtown Houston), cycling may actually decrease commuting time. Utilizing public transportation has been shown to have similar influences on mood and work performance. One study found that people who eschew cars for the friendly confines of a train are happier in general, as it offers far more opportunity for social interaction and the possibility of safely handling other tasks on the journey to the office.

Mindset 

There’s that word again. Whether you’re stuck on I-5 in your car or happily cycling your way to work, commuting is an opportunity to consciously improve your mood and transition from the personal to the professional. Whether that is hitting the volume button several times and singing unaccompanied at the top of your lungs to your favorite guilty pleasure song or tuning into your favorite presentation about developing a growth mindset, there are a number of simple ways to turn the doldrums of commuting into happy personal development time. In our busy lives, how much time do we actually have with our own thoughts? Don’t waste that opportunity by being grumpy.

Reduce it.

If all else fails, proactively look for ways to reduce commuting. 24% of workers in the United States now telecommute (work from home) at least part of the time, and this number is rapidly increasing as data confirms that those who work from home are generally happier and more productive. Approach your employer about whether this is an option for you. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job-hopping has more than doubled in the last two decades and is even more common if you are in the technology or media industries. And it isn’t just millennials; the trend of not staying put with one employer is seen across all generations. If you’re looking for greener work pastures, why not make commuting one of the priorities when examining possible options? On the flip side, looking for a new home for your growing family? Do you want a spare bedroom for guests and a bigger yard or a more manageable commute? The research suggests that prioritizing your commute is significantly more likely to increase your happiness.

People generally look at work commuting as a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be, and commuting may not even be necessary. For your health and happiness, and that of those around you, make conscious efforts to alter, reduce, or simply change your mindset about commuting.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.