It's no secret that a long commute makes us unhappy. According to researchers at Sweden's Umea University, if getting to work takes more than 45 minutes for even just one partner in a marriage, the couple is 40 percent more likely to divorce.

It's not hard to see why.

When we are commuting, we are inclined to feel like we are inevitably wasting our precious time. In our lightning-speed world, time is always money. Losing even five minutes during the course of a hurried morning can bring about an irritation that hangs over our heads all day.

How do we reconcile the fact that, while en route to our work, we're not actively cleaning the house, walking the dog, cuddling with a loved one, or doing any of the other activities that would make a sane human being happy?

We are not even working. Human beings who are exceptionally motivated--especially ones who would voluntarily take on a long commute for a job--cannot stand the idea of wasting time unproductively if we are not having fun.

While trapped in our respective modes of transportation, we are getting nothing of value done. Instead, we are more likely getting cut off by a bright yellow school bus, being given premature whiplash as the result of an abrupt train stop, or fighting encroaching nausea from the bus's inadequate air conditioning.

If, however, our commutes are inevitable, what can we do to fix them?

I've always found that my endless drives were the only "me time" I could make in my packed schedule. So I treated them as such. On the hour-long drive from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to downtown Washington D.C. I used to make every day--and the hour-long return commute--I would do things to pass the time that I never could anywhere else.

I would practice speaking Russian, make phone calls to friends I hadn't caught up with in far too long, and memorize lyrics to songs that I hadn't been able to get my ears exposed to all day.

When stuck on a train or subway, or waiting in an airport for my flight to board, I try to do much the same thing. I bring along a copy of The New Yorker magazine I hadn't had a chance to browse, read the news, maybe even try to strike up a conversation with my commuting neighbor.

Commutes are terrible. There's no denying that. But we're human, and we're good at making things work--even if yet another big yellow school bus stands in our way.

Published on: Jul 9, 2015
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