A huge amount of us have some kind of commute to work each day. Whether it’s by car, train or bus, our commute can sometimes take a large chunk out of our day and studies are showing the greater distance there is between home and work, the more likely you are to feel isolation, have sleep difficulties, stress, emotional problems and general burnout. Whether we realise it or not, our well-being and happiness is taking a massive beating.
Researchers found that each minute spent on commuting is identified with a 0.0257-minute exercise time reduction, a 0.0387-minute food preparation time reduction, and a 0.2205-minute sleep time reduction. An example of what this equates to is someone who commutes for a total of 3 hours a day in their working week for a year, will miss out on half an hour of sleep each day.
How Can You Combat The Commuting Blues?
If you find long commutes don’t affect you that much, it could be because you have a certain trait in your personality that gives you a slightly different mindset: self-control.
A survey of 225 London commuters found that dissatisfaction and unhappiness in their jobs was high in those who had longer commutes with the exception of those who had self-control as an integrated personality trait.
So what does someone with self-control do that others don’t? Well, they are more likely to spend their time forward planning during their commute. In other words, they ask themselves goal-oriented questions such as: What do I need to get done today? How is this related to the rest of my week? And is this all contributing towards my overall career goal?
The reason this particular mindset works is because, even just done for a few minutes, it allows us to transition much more easily, both psychologically and temporally, from our home life to our work life. By doing this people are less likely to experience stress and general lower well-being in their lives.
The Biggest Commuting Mistake We Make
Some of us may use our commute to read a book, answer emails, take a nap or just generally space out. While some of what we do may feel like a productive use of our travel time, what we’re fundamentally doing is isolating ourselves from others.
As humans, we are extremely social and during our commute we are surrounded by a lot of people but actively choosing not to interact with them. We’re very used to doing this, especially on a packed train or bus but the solitary and unsociable way we behave is actually very detrimental to our overall well-being.
Have you ever wondered why people stand almost touching arm to arm on crowded transport but never even look each other in the eye? Under normal social circumstances being that close to another person means there’s a social connection but on a commute this is acceptable because we tend to look at people as ‘part of the furniture’ rather than as human beings – this allows us to mentally disengage ourselves from those around us.
How Can We Help Ourselves To Have A Happier Commute?
Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago says we are using our commuting time all wrong and mistakenly seeking solitude on our way to and from work. What we really need to do is spark up conversations with those around us.
“People tend to think others just aren’t that social and that if you started a conversation it would be unpleasant, but that’s what commuters are getting wrong,” says Epley. “What we learned from our experiments is that the biggest cost to commuting – the unhappiness that shows up in almost every survey you find – can go away just by talking to a stranger.”
It seems starting simple conversations and interactions with your fellow commuters is enough to quell the negative influence that commuting has on our happiness and well-being.
If you’re thinking that no one ever looks like they’ll welcome a conversation from a stranger, you are wrong. The study Epley and his colleagues conducted showed the average person believes only 40% of their fellow commuters would happily engage in a random conversation with a stranger but, in fact, this actually turned out to be 100%.
It doesn’t have to be an in-depth discussion either – just simply complimenting or making an observational remark could be enough to make a difference to both your journey and someone else’s. So if your commute is causing stress, anxiety, and lowering your mental and physical well-being, it’s either time to seriously re-think your reasons behind such a long commute or simply stop isolating yourself and say hello to the person sitting next to you.