What's Your Commute Like?

Whenever I find myself at a party, the conversation goes something like this: “What do you do? (Answer.) Where do you live? (Answer.) So, what’s your commute like?” The person inevitably responds with a tale of breezy morning bike rides or a multi-part saga about the three subway transfers they make twice a day. I take a boat to work, and am always happy to talk about it.

The average American spends 25.4 minutes commuting each way, which adds up to a total of 204 hours — about 5 work weeks! — per year. (New Yorkers have the longest commutes, at 38 minutes each way. Mine takes an hour.) Needless to say, your commute is kind of a big deal…

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt says your commute is one of three main external factors that can affect your everyday happiness.

(The other two factors are noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent, and sense of control — believing that you have the power to change and manage your environment, whether it’s your schedule, your workload or even the tidiness of your home.)

“A leisurely drive or a smooth bike ride can actually be a relaxing way to start your day,” Haidt explains. Yet similarly to how people in Snickers commercials mimic the Incredible Hulk pre-Snickers consumption, people with stressful or unpredictable commutes can fall prey to a host of maladies, including high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and increased risk for anxiety and depression. Yikes. “If at all possible,” Haidt advises, “choose circumstances with the easiest commute, leave earlier, or take a different route.”

Point taken, Haidt, but it’s not always possible to shorten your commute. Still, you can do your best to shave a few minutes off. “The commuter takes on compulsive attributes,” writes Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker. “Some people decipher where on a subway train it is best to ride, for optimum exiting, and, therefore, where to stand on the platform, by a particular pay phone or blackened patch of gum.”

Despite all this, extreme commuting is actually on the rise, with people traveling to other cities, states, even countries for their jobs, as The Atlantic recently explained.

“Erik Church lives in Toronto, but works in Vancouver, more than 2,000 miles away… He took the job four years ago, but decided to commute, not only for his nine-year-old daughter, but also because his wife’s medical practice was established in Toronto.

He now takes a five-hour flight to Vancouver every Sunday night or Monday morning and leaves on Thursdays at 5 p.m. If his daughter has a school recital, he will fly there in one day, catch the recital, and fly back again. His daughter once told her teacher that her dad worked at the airport.”

Crazy, right? And now I shall never complain about my commute again.

How long is your commute? Do you walk, bike or drive? Read books (I just finished and loved this one) or listen to podcasts? We’d love to hear…

P.S. Another important question: Do you have gadget sickness?