Updated on 03.15.17

Three Reasons to Cut or Change Your Commute

A long commute is a proven drag on your happiness and health.

The average American commute is now 26 minutes each way, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means the typical U.S. worker now spends almost an hour each day commuting. Assuming a five-day workweek, two weeks of vacation per year, and 4o years of working full-time, that adds up to roughly a year of your life just traveling to and from work. An entire year.

That’s obviously a lot of time to spend consciously raising your heart rate by getting cut off in 5 m.p.h. traffic or shoved at the bus stop for the hundredth time. So it probably won’t surprise you to hear that commuting is associated with all sorts of stress and negative consequences.

“Taking a job that requires an hour-long commute each way has a negative effect on happiness similar in magnitude to not having a job at all,” writes Elizabeth Dunn in her book, “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,” co-authored with Michael Norton. “To offset the happiness costs of going from no commute to a 22-minute commute, the average person would need to see their income rise by over a third — and that’s just to break even.”

That’s right, zeroing out your commute could add as much happiness to your life as a 33% pay raise. Here are some more reasons to cut down on your commute, if at all possible:

1. A long commute increases odds of divorce.

Research from Umea University in Sweden showed that couples who commuted for longer each day were more likely to divorce. When one partner commuted for 45 minutes per day or longer, couples were 40% more likely to divorce than when both partners worked close to home. (Although, the odds were better for couples who were engaged in long commutes before they got together.)

2. You won’t have time to appreciate the benefits.

Commuting farther might open up more housing and job options — perhaps a higher-paying job or a bigger home way outside the city –but they’re unlikely to make you any happier.

“Although accepting a longer commute can provide access to both nicer houses and better jobs, people with longer commutes are no more satisfied with their homes, and they are less satisfied with their jobs,” writes Dunn.

“And individuals with long commutes are much less satisfied with their spare time,” she adds. “Commuting, it seems, undermines time affluence.” You won’t even have time to enjoy the perks.

3. Commuting could be breaking your physical and mental health.

A 2010 survey for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that “American workers with lengthy commutes are more likely to report a range of adverse physical and emotional conditions,” including neck and back pain, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Researchers also found that workers who commuted 90 minutes or longer to work were more likely to report experiencing worry “for much of the previous day” – 40%, as opposed to 10% of workers who commuted for 10 minutes or less each way.

Longer commutes are also associated with less time spent sleeping, exercising, preparing food, and interacting socially — things we really ought to be doing more often. No wonder commuting makes us so miserable.

So, what’s the answer?

Unless you’re the boss, or working for yourself, your options are probably somewhat limited – after all, you probably wouldn’t have taken that job with the long commute if you had other, better options closer to home. But, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless to change your situation.

Negotiating for one day a week of working at home can cut down on your total commute time, and give you a break from the grind.

The same goes for making a deal with your boss to work on a more flexible schedule. If you can rearrange your commute so that you’re traveling at off-peak times — when other people are still asleep or already at their desks — you might be able to trim precious minutes (and road rage) from your journey.

Failing that, you might rethink your mode of transportation, where possible.

“When it comes to commuting, as with many things, length isn’t all that matters,” Dunn writes. “In a 2011 study comparing almost 300 commuters traveling from their homes in northern New Jersey to their jobs in New York City, people felt significantly less stressed and disgruntled after taking the train than after driving. Train travel was less effortful and more predictable than driving.” Meanwhile, some other forms of commuting, like walking or biking, can actually bring health benefits by injecting some exercise into your daily routine.

Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind all the costs of commuting — beyond just the wear and tear on your car, parking fees, or the cost of a train pass. It might make you rethink taking a job that pays more, but requires you to spend more time on the road each day. Likewise, consider whether a commute-free life might be worth taking a lower salary at a nearby or more flexible employer.

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