We talk about work life and we talk about home life, but we rarely discuss the in-between time—your commute.
There's good reason for that: A 2006 survey found that commuting was dead last on women's lists of favorite activities, even below working and housework.
The minutes spent commuting add up to hours, days and weeks out of the year. Case in point—the average American commute is about 25 minutes, and begins between 7:30 and 8:00 am. So that's 25 minutes each way, five days per week, adding up to over 16 hours per month.
Strangely, that average 25 minutes makes American commutes one of the shortest among developed countries. Doesn't that seem suspect? It turns out that commute length in the United States is particularly difficult to measure, due to 1) The sheer size of the country 2) The discrepancy between car and public transit commutes and 3) Possibly inaccurate methodology on behalf of the U.S. Census Bureau.
But no matter how long your trip, it's still a commute.
And commute time and happiness are closely related. Below, we'll break down the ways commute time can affect your relationships, wealth and well-being—as well as give you tips to make getting there and back far more pleasant.
4 Ways a Long Commute Hurts You
1. It can take a toll on our relationships.
According to a study of 2 million Swedes, couples in which one person commutes 45 minutes or longer are 40% more likely to divorce. "To be able to commute to work can be a positive thing because it means you don't have to uproot your family with every career move, but it can also be a strain on your relationship," Erika Sandow, a social geographer at Umea University and lead author of the study, told the Swedish publication the Local.
How Do You Find Balance?
Do you have a long commute? What tips do you have for making the most of the time you spend commuting?
2. It can make us lonely.
One author theorizes that every ten minutes spent commuting means 10% fewer "social connections," or those person-to-person interactions that make us, the social animals known as humans, feel fulfilled. And the longer you commute, the unhappier you might become. A 2010 Gallup poll found that 40% of workers with commutes longer than 90 minutes worried about it for the entire preceding day.
3. It's rough on our health.
While it seems like common sense—if you're in the car, you're not at the gym—studies show that each minute spent commuting has been proven to reduce time spent on constructive behaviors like preparing food, exercising and sleeping. A Brown University study determined that workers with longer commutes--regardless of the length of their workday--are likelier to buy fast food and have unhealthier habits than those who commute less. In fact, miles traveled by vehicle is more closely associated with American obesity than any other factor!
4. And, it can cost us money.
To find out exactly how much your commute by car costs you, check out this cool commute calculator. Those numbers don't take into account money spent on the extra time your child needs to be in daycare, with a nanny or at an after-school activity. Or the cost of train/bus/subway tickets. Or the cost of snacks to sustain you through the trip. Or that Kindle you needed "for your commute"—which you really might want (see below.)
8 Ways to Make Commuting Better
At the end of the day--quite literally--commuting is a necessary evil. After all, work allows you to bring home the paycheck that will help you reach your financial goals, and you need to get there. Follow these eight tips to make your back and forth (no matter how long), better.
1. Catch up on your (audio) reading.
Getting engrossed in a good story is a great way to fight off feelings of being disconnected or unhappy. Non-drivers can use an actual book or e-reader, but drivers will want to download an audio book. Many libraries let you borrow audio books for free, and some public library systems actually let you download MP3 and WMA files directly, without showing up to the library.
Here's a trick: Only allow yourself to listen to your book when commuting. That way, a little part of you will actually look forward to your time on the road.
2. Rehearse your big sell.
... Or presentation, or tricky email, or pitch for a promotion. Even if you're not projecting to the entire train car, you can learn your lines, go over your body language and get ready to win it. Author Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes 10,000 hours, or roughly four hours per day for ten years, to become an expert at your chosen task. While we hope you won't be spending enough time commuting to achieve that kind of expertise, you can at least master your pitch.
3. Learn a new language.
Keep your mind engaged and grow your knowledge by learning that language on your bucket list. This is probably better for drivers only, as audio language programs require audible repetition. After a half hour or more of instruction per day, you'll be ready to face le travail.
4. Get on top of your inbox.
A smartphone is great for Angry Birds, but it's even better for sorting through your inbox—provided you aren't driving. This means your email will be squared away by the time you get home, so you can turn off your phone and be fully present with your family once you walk in the door. We found some good tips from Microsoft on managing your inbox with supreme efficiency.
5. Relax your eyes.
Staring at a computer all day can cause headaches and damage our eyes, among other ills. But you can use your time on the road to do right by yourself physically. Exercising your eyes can help reduce eye fatigue—just follow the 20/20/20 rule: Focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Or, put away your phone entirely and roll your eyes clockwise, counterclockwise, and then up-down, up-down.
6. Boost your endorphins.
Singing may release endorphins and relieve stress, and (because it encourages you to breathe deeply and use your body) serious singing is actually considered an aerobic exercise! If you drive to work, crank up the tunes and sing along as loudly as you dare. If you commute by train or bus, you might have to content yourself with quiet humming, or singing along in your head. But, how often do you have total control over the music without a little one begging for Dora? Relax and visit your happy place.
7. Save money.
Use this time to go over your spending from the past day or week. Are you on track with your budget? Are there any areas in which you're overspending and could cut back? If you have a smartphone or internet access, you could even log in to the LearnVest My Money Center to see the exact numbers for all your financial accounts in one place.
8. Make a mental gratitude list.
Finally, nothing adds sparkle to a traffic jam like a deep breath and three things you're grateful for at that very moment. After all, things can't be so bad if you can find reasons to be grateful—even if it's just to be on the way home.
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