Here's a trifecta of scientifically proven facts about happiness and well-being:
- Commuting is generally one of the activities that makes people most miserable
- Exercise improves mood
- So does time spent outside (particularly in natural settings)
What conclusion do you reach if you put these three pieces of information together? One possible answer is that ditching your car and finding a more active way to get to work might improve your life. Which is just what a team of British researchers found recently when they analyzed nearly 18 years of data on almost 18,000 adult commuters in the U.K. who changed their method of getting to work.
Swapping biking or walking for your daily commute by car wasn't just presumably good for commuters' physical health, the team out of the University of East Anglia found, but also improved their state of mind. The researchers' analysis also showed that the longer you spend in your car getting to and from work each day, the worse the effects on your mental state.
The bottom line, according to lead researcher Adam Martin: "Our study shows that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological well-being."
Even a Rush Hour Train Beats Commuting by Car
Surprisingly, the team also found that even commuting by public transport was better for people's mood than spending time in the car--a fact that will, no doubt, shock anyone who has suffered through the sardine-can experience of the London tube at rush hour.
"You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress," Martin commented, "but as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialize, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up." (To which I say, good luck socializing on a British train. But hey, that's apparently what the data reveals.)
When a Car Is Your Only Option
Of course, in many U.S. locations, communities are laid out in such a way as to make commuting by car your only option. But if you happen to be in a position to get to work by alternate means, you should think long and hard about whether ditching your car might have a positive effect on your happiness levels (and, it should be mentioned, possibly your budget as well--some analyses show the cost to commuters per mile traveled ends up being nearly $800 per year), according to the study.
If your setup makes getting in the car your only option, perhaps a little creativity could help cut down your commute. Have you considered switching to a four-day week (done right there's no need to shut your business additional hours) or working from home occasionally? If you're open to radical solutions, even moving closer to work can make financial sense.