The research really couldn't be clearer: a long commute is pretty much guaranteed to make you miserable.

Not only does study after study find that people rank commuting as the absolutely least enjoyable part of their days, but recent research confirms that when people manage to cut down the time they spend sitting in a car, their happiness levels rise. Oh, and did I mention that commuting is probably costing you a lot more money than you think too?

In short, long commutes are straight up awful. So what can you do if you can't change yours?

Maybe your dream job and your dream house just aren't all that close, maybe your spouse's work complicates your decision making, or maybe house prices make the call for you. But for whatever reason, cutting down on your commute is just not currently a practical option for you. Are you doomed to misery?

Maybe not. While few dispute that limiting your commute is the ideal solution, new research suggests that, if you're stuck in a car or train for hours a day, there is a small change in attitude that can make the experience significantly less painful.

The science of a happier commute

For this new working paper, which was recently highlighted on the Association for Psychological Science blog, researchers out of Columbia University rounded up 154 British commuters and then randomly assigned them to two groups. The first group just continued commuting to work as they always had, answering questions about their happiness levels, commute times, job satisfaction, and emotional exhaustion.

The other group, however, received a text message each week prompting them to use their commute to reflect on the day to come and plan some aspect of their work. They too answered question about their travel and moods. After six weeks the experiences of both groups were compared.

While nothing had physically changed about either group's commute -- the traffic was just as snarled, the train just as unreliable, etc. -- their subjective experience of their commutes differed significantly. The planning group showed significantly increased job satisfaction and decreased emotional exhaustion.

The takeaway seems simple. While there is definitely a time and a place to disconnect from work and give your brain a breather, your trip into the office might not be the best choice for that. Using your commute constructively to reflect and plan -- rather than distract yourself with a good book or that awesome new album -- might lead you to feel the time had actual value and eliminate some of the emotional costs of commuting. Plus, by setting the stage for your day, you could eliminate later hassles, further reducing your overall stress levels.

In short, planning seems to beat distracting yourself when it comes to crafting a happier commute. Give it a try and let us know if you feel a difference in the comments.

Published on: Sep 27, 2016
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