It’s fitting that I’m writing this story on a day when I spent 15 minutes waiting for the train, which never came, meaning I had to walk another 15 minutes in the rain to a different train station.
This story, of course, being a story about commuting — and how most of us underestimate just how miserable commuting can make us.
That’s according to a team of researchers writing in The Harvard Business Review. They cite multiple studies that suggest commuting can be more stressful than actually working, and that the longer your commute, the less satisfied you may be with your job and with life in general.
The researchers also offer a bunch of science-backed strategies for making your commute to work more enjoyable — or at least tolerable.
But the strategy that stood out to me was this: Reduce your commute. As in, move closer to your office or find a job closer to your home.
If you’re considering this strategy on a day when your commute went pretty smoothly (i.e. not today, for me), this seems like a silly thing to do. You should choose a job based largely, if not exclusively, on the work you’ll be doing there, right?
That is, in fact, what most people think. The researchers mention a yet-unpublished study in which they asked US employees to choose between two job scenarios: “Job 1, with a salary of $US67,000 a year and a commuting time of 50 minutes, and Job 2, with a salary of $US64,000 and a commuting time of 20 minutes.”
According to the researchers, 84% of participants chose Job 1, with the higher salary and longer commute. The researchers call this phenomenon “commuter’s bias,” or the tendency to downplay the horrors of commuting.
In the study, the researchers checked to see whether participants could calculate exactly how much more they would earn if they chose Job 1: $US12 an hour. The participants could, in fact, do the maths.
The researchers write: “Their responses simply reflected an inability to fully appreciate the psychological, emotional, and physical costs of longer travel times.”
Of course, not everyone is in a position to choose a new job or a new home right now.
In that case, you can make the most of your commute by working up the nerve to chat with fellow passengers (if you take public transportation). One study found that passengers on a Chicago train reported having a much more positive commute when they were prompted to talk to a stranger than when they sat alone or did what they usually did.
Another study, of Canadian citizens, found that, among people who said commuting was the best part of their day (really!), most were bikers.
You have a few options here — strike up a conversation with another rider; change your mode of transportation; or move to another neighbourhood or office.
But the real takeaway is that, sometimes, you should sweat the small stuff. Pay attention to what makes you happy, frustrated, or bored on a regular basis. It might not be something as big as “my career” — and it might be easier to fix than you think.
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