At some point we all have to do it. Get from A to B and then back again…repeatedly…often it’s the same route every single day. It will therefore probably come as no surprise to many that the commute to work registers as one of the least pleasurable experiences of the day – along with working and housework. And it is those with the longest commutes that tend to have the lowest overall well-being. Why do we put ourselves through it each day and sometimes for years on end? And is there an alternative?
Do we think carefully enough about the effects of our decisions on well-being?
Well the first thing is that much before we even began that commute we probably never appreciated how hellish that commute would really be years or even months into the future. How much did our well-being feature in the decision that led to that long commute? Was it a new job or a new house that resulted in the longer commute? If so when accepting that new job or moving house the commute probably wasn’t as salient as other features such as the big pay rise or the size of the new home. Perhaps it should have been. If we lived our lives based around maximising the well-being of ourselves and those around us then our choices might have been very different.
The commute gets no easier with time
We know that the well-being effects of more money are not only relatively quite small but the effects also don’t last very long. It is well-known that we adapt psychologically to many things in life – that is after some time we get used to the things in life that once bought us great pleasure. A bigger house is also one of those things we soon get used to having. But that long difficult commute…well…research shows that it never gets any easier – it begins difficult and stays difficult. And so initially the large pay rise may seem to compensate for the longer commute but due to adaptation that pay rise will one day cease to compensate for a commute that hasn’t got any easier. This idea, depicted in one of my favourite well-being papers, is one that individuals and governments would do well to pay attention to if they were really concerned about increasing the nation’s well-being.
It doesn’t have to be this way
So is there anything we can do? There are a few things we should try. First, we can make better and more informed choices. We could try to avoid that long commute, if not now then perhaps in the future with a heightened awareness that a pay rise or bigger house won’t compensate for a longer commute in the long-run. In fact it might be sensible to down scale completely. Second, if we simply have to commute, as many of us do, then perhaps we need to think about the quality of
our commute. It has been shown, for example, that switching to an active form of transport, such as walking or cycling, is associated with improvements in well-being. Third, those that have decision making power with regard to transport infrastructure need to design it in such a way as to foster greater well-being. And for those that don’t we need to put pressure on those that do have that power (e.g., by participating in demonstrations). We know that active transport is a healthier and more satisfying way to travel so why don’t we have the cycling infrastructure to support that?
One beautiful commute…
There was a time when I lived a simple life in the hills and my commute to work involved walking over a couple of hills to the sound of nature. Sometimes I’d even extend the walk – what a “privilege” to experience nature. I guess it wasn’t really a commute – I was alive, I was present – and that is not something we associate enough with our daily commute. Better a slower life…
*** Thank you for reading. If you like any of my posts then I’m happy to have them shared or commented upon. Also if you don’t like anything then I’d be grateful to hear that too.