Here’s why your daily commute may be destroying your happiness

by | Jun 21, 2016 | Become More Awesome

Takeaway: The length of your daily commute to and from work has a huge effect on your happiness. Research shows that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.” If you’re not careful, your daily commute can cost you more than you realize—in time, money, and happiness.

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Occasionally a book comes along that changes the way you think about a topic. Happy City, by Charles Montgomery, is one of those books. It will change the way you look at how your city is structured, while giving you a bunch of pointers for how you can structure your own life to become happier.

Curiously, one of the biggest determinants of how happy you are with your living situation is your commute time to and from work. On the surface, this is obvious advice. Of course people are going to be less happy when their commute time is longer. But the magnitude to which your daily commute time affects your happiness is staggering. As Montgomery writes, according to research conducted by Alois Stutter and Bruno Frey:

  • “A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.”

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s a lot more money—and time and work—to achieve the same level of happiness. And of course, this figure doesn’t account for the amount of money your time is worth while you get yourself to and from work, or the time you spend working to pay for the vehicle that gets you there. As Montgomery later writes:

  • “Any honest assessment of travel time has to include the hours you spend working to pay for your vehicle,” including the costs that are “hidden in loan financing, parking fees, repairs, tolls, accessories, maintenance, and depreciation.”

In money, time, and happiness, the costs associated with a long daily commute add up very quickly.

Us humans are actually pretty good at adapting as the conditions in our life—including how much money we make—change for better or worse. This is why our level of happiness stays relatively constant over the years. But what makes our daily commute so disruptive to our happiness compared to other conditions in our life is that a commute is inherently difficult to adapt to. Every daily commute is different, with “different people honking at us, different intersections jammed with accidents, different problems with weather, and so on.”

Happiness is inherently more difficult to quantify than time and money, but the costs associated with a long commute time are so great that they have even been shown to influence your overall life satisfaction. This graph, based on research conducted by Stutter and Frey, says it all:


Luckily, the relationship works in the other direction, too. Montgomery writes that “for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.”

Unlike some other articles on this site, this is tough advice to internalize and then act upon. The average person moves just 11.4 times in his or her life, and will change jobs about as many times. But when your commute time can cost you so much in time, money, and happiness, it’s worth weighing heavily.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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