5 Ways To Become The World's Happiest Commuter

Yes, you can actually be good at schlepping to work.

You don't have to be a National Geographic fellow like Dan Buettner to know that one of the things that we Americans hate most on a daily basis is our commutes.

"If you can cut an hourlong commute each way out of your life," he told NPR, "it's the [happiness] equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year if you're at the $50,000 to $60,000 level. It's an easy way for us to get happier. Move closer to your place of work."

Yet it's not just the length of the commute that makes you enraged—or maybe even happy—but what happens on the way to work as well. While the average commute in the States lasts 25.4 minutes, what happens along those miles may vary. For evidence, take in what a year on the New York subway looks like.

COMMUTERS: 2012 by Rebecca Davis

But there are ways to master a commute, beyond making out while straphangers alternately ignore or ogle you.

The four factors of commutely mastery

The Wall Street Journal has tracked down a breadth of contented commuters. Let's distill the fruits of their thought-harvest below.

It's not the length; it's what you do with it: People can be happy with a commute as long as 45 minutes, studies show.

It's reliable: Gigantic fluctuations in traffic—like those that befall drivers around Mexico City and Moscow—can leave people stranded in traffic for hours at any given hour.

You fill it with awesome stuff: Suburb-to-Manhattan commuter Holland Sullivan loads his phone with articles and magazines each evening so he can read while navigating the train-to-subway journey. "Even when I'm standing in the subway jammed shoulder to shoulder, I'm getting something done," he says.

You're getting paid: If you're commuting an hour each way, you gotta make 40% more money than someone who lives near the office to have the same satisfaction with life.

You can shift it: The Wall Street Journal talks to Mike Venerable, a managing director living near Cincinatti, Ohio. Instead of wading into rush-hour traffic, Venerable spends the first few hours of the workday over a frothy drink at Starbucks. Then he heads in.

How do you master your commute? Tell us in the comments.

Hat tip: the Wall Street Journal

[Image: Flickr user Adam McVicker]

Add New Comment

22 Comments

  • There is absolutely NO WAY to master my commute here in Detroit! The buses "say" they come every 20-30 mins, however, it's more like once per hour on certain routes, during specific time periods. What I have learned to do is: (1)Leave for work at least 2-hours early, and (2)Submit to bus-tardiness on the ride back home! ...And just now, I thought of (3)Start saving for one of those over-priced apts. not far from work!

  • andeasyand

    I catch up with reading or journal-writing- peacefully. No one disturbs you. Part of the reason why I still do not have a license.

  • Ezi Boteach

    I have been spending the better part of a decade as a commuter in the Bay Area. I found a way to add awesomeness to my commute time by listening to content I really like, my content! You might want to check these apps:

    1. Web2go - you can get any website read out loud to you (Android)

    2. StreamShell - reads email, weather, stocks and RSS feeds (Android)

    3. erem - reads news and social channels (Android/iPhone)

  • CrankyOldGuy

    I've learned that for me an optimum commute consists of bicycle-public transit-bicycle.

    I stage everything the night before. I can then get up an in robot mode take a shower, put on my riding clothes, pick up my packed bike bag and snacks, and get on my bike. Now matter how hard it was to get up that morning, by the time I've ridden 1.5 blocks I'm feeling okay.

    Riding to public transit gives me more scheduling flexibility. And when I get to the station nearest the office, a short quick ride puts me on site; no time consuming and annoying second (or Heaven forfend, a third) connection.

    Going home is the same story. Being able to ride from work to any of three relatively nearby stations gives me scheduling flexibility. And getting home from my destination station is, again, faster than making a secondary transit connection.

    Finally, when I get home I can take a shower and tuck into a good dinner. I've book-ended my workday with mood enhancing and stress relieving bike rides and gotten plenty of cardio exercise in without a separate trip to the gym.

    Bicycle-transit-bicycle works so well for me that I no longer own a car. And the longer I go without the burdens of automobile ownership and operation, the more I intend to never own another car for as long as I live…

  • JasonWorley

    I agree the idea is to cram your commute with awesome stuff! My commute is, but doesn't feel like 1.5h one way. I use that time to catch up on my readings with audiobooks. Books that I would just beat myself up for not getting to. I theme each week or 2 weeks with a certain idea or topic I want to think about. From Disciplined Dreaming to The Superiority of Man, I drown myself in all sorts of thoughts.
    I also use this time to stay in touch with family that I normally can not visit. Sometimes I am on a conference call, and most importantly I use this time to breathe, relax, and think. With 3h every workday to just think peacefully. I find myself executing everything in life quite effectively.

  • Liam Mathews

    I usually ride my bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I'm in control in a way that public transportation doesn't allow. Barring some unpredictable holdup, which happen less frequently than they do with trains or cars, my commute takes a consistent amount of time that's comparable to a lucky train ride. Frustrations are more fleeting. Urban biking isn't relaxing or serene, but it's fun.

  • Stacey Olson

    I'm looking forward to the time when someone installs a few exercise bikes and other gym machines INSIDE the subway car. If even just as an advertisement. When I listen to music on the train during my hour long commute, I always have to stop myself from grooving to the tunes. So I've started downloading podcasts instead.

  • Ezi Boteach

    For over 2 years I spent 2 hours every day commuting, and hating every minute of it. The big problem was texting and driving, out of boredom... Eventually, I decided to build an app and get my content (emails, stocks, news) in a safer way.  For Android users for now, it might help you get more out of your commute. Check it out: https://play.google.com/store/...

  • W3

    I ride my bike. It's 40 minutes each way, and I listen to podcasts or audio books while riding. It's calm, it's exercise and it saves hundreds of dollars a month on transit passes and car costs. Exercise triggers endorphins, and I always arrive at the office happy, calm and collected.

  • Nicki

    When we moved we made it a point to find a home within 5 miles of downtown where our work places are located. My car commute is usually about 15 mins with a but of traffic. Or I can take the bus in less than 30 mins. My husband often rides his bike. We love the flexibility and time saved.

  • Jason Lilly

    My commute is only about 30 minutes by car, but I keep it interesting by leaving early some days and taking a different route. There are about five ways to my work and they're almost never the same. Some are more scenic, but longer and laid back, and others are shorter but more populated and high energy. Sometimes I have the windows up, listening to music or talk radio. Other times the windows are down, music off, to take in the sounds of "outside."

  • Rachel Storey

    I love running to and from work. Sure, I look dorky with my running backpack (which is actually awesome!) but I am able to get my miles in and it doesn't even feel like a commute. I'm sort of surprised more people don't run to work, especially given the huge running culture here in DC (and the expensive and completely unreliable Metro system). I am definitely in a better mood when I run in as opposed to the days I have to take the Metro.

  • klstones

    When I used to commute (45 min each way), it was podcasts all the way. The key was developing a "curriculum" each week of something I wanted to learn. The biggest challenge was finding podcasts I could complete in 45 min - on longer ones I found it challenging at the end of the day to pick up where I left off - too many changing thoughts during the course of a day.

  • Maccabee Montandon

    I often work at home, but sometimes need human contact (weird, right?) When that happens, I pack up my laptop and walk about ten minutes to a cafe in the neighborhood. It's not the closest cafe to my apartment, but I've found it's the one that best stimulates productivity for me. The walk is a great way to clear my head and, at times, have a breakthrough idea. And coffee shops, (as Fast Company noted here: http://www.fastcompany.com/301..., can be excellent places for high-octane creativity.

  • cicishannon

    When I commuted - about 1-1.5 hours - I started to listen to meditation tapes. It was great because it actually increased my focus on driving safely but allowed me to use my time in a way that was constructive and contributed to my quality of life overall. Practicing things like breathing exercises and guided self-exploration (eyes always open, of course!) while driving made it a value-add for my life, because I probably wouldn't have made time to study these practices as much if I hadn't had the driving time already blocked out of my day. Naturally, the deep-relaxation techniques and the like had to wait until I got home :)
    Language-learning audio programs are another way to add value to commute time. I have a friend who learned Russian by CD over the course of a year commuting.

  • Brian Englishman

    My commute is 1 hour and 30 min to my low paid entry level job. 1 bike ride, two trains and two subway rides. And that's if NJ transit doesn't screw up. It costs me almost $400 a month. Podcasts and crosswords are the key.

  • Nitin S. Joshi

    My commute is a little over two hours each way so in the morning I catch up on News, and sleep while listening to music.  On ride home, I read a book, watch a movie, gaze out the window thinking of beaching on a distant beach on a distant planet in a distant galaxy or do some work.  What a life.