Two Surprising Ways To Improve Your Commute

A long commute is a necessary evil–but it doesn’t have to suck the happiness out of your day.

Two Surprising Ways To Improve Your Commute
[Image: Flickr user Cristiano Betta]

If you’re happy and you know it, you probably have a short commute.


A study done by National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner found that cutting an hour-long commute each way out of your life, gives people the happiness equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year.

The average commute time is 25.4 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and if you live in a large city like New York, you’re likely spending more than twice that getting to the office. Is there a way to find happiness while still living in the ‘burbs?

Yes, says Hillary Rettig, productivity coach and author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. “The key is making your commute neutral versus destructive.” She offers two counterintuitive ways to make the most of rush hour:

Lengthen it

As crazy as it may sound, lengthening your commute will take away some of the destructive qualities of the trip, says Rettig.

“When people are commuting, they’re most likely rushing,” she says. “Rushing degrades our happiness. Most of us probably don’t realize the stress it causes us physically and emotionally.”

Turn your commute into a more neutral experience by allocating more time for it: “Leaving early is empowering,” she says. “You have more of a sense of control and self-management. For example, you can stop and pick up coffee on the way if you wish. You’ll immediately feel a sense of relief.”


Many of us don’t leave early because we feel helplessly busy, says Rettig. Instead of feeling a victim to the clock, she suggests preparing as much as possible the night before to free up time in morning. While you’re getting ready for work, avoid distractions such as checking email or turning on the television. If you want to hear the news, Rettig suggests listening the radio, instead.

“When you give yourself extra time, your blood pressure stays low and your commute is a less destructive part of the day,” she says.

Do something personally rewarding

Once you’ve taken the stress out of your commute, look for the value it can add. “People who enjoy their commute do so because it’s peaceful,” says Rettig. “It’s a rare moment to be by themselves.”

Depending on your method of transportation, she suggests using the time to do something that enhances your day. For example, if you drive you can use the time to think, listen to music, or listen to a book on CD. If you take the bus or train, you could use the time to read, write, or meditate. By walking or biking to work, you can use the commute as a way to get in your daily exercise. Or carpool and use the time to socialize and network.

“The key is to do what you want to do, not what you think you should do,” says Rettig. “We often choose the thing that seems more productive because it feels like the right thing to do. But using your commute to read a fun novel or listen to music is productive because it’s taking away the negative aspect of the commute. It becomes like a little holiday that will help fuel your productivity for the rest of the day.”

Rettig admits that commuting isn’t always the most effective use of time. “Make it less painful by eliminating the rush and filling it with wonderful stuff,” she says. “When you slow down, you’ll find that it could be one of the best parts of your day.”