Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Your commute is killing you

An invaluable article has been floating around a couple of sites recently. It addresses the issue of commutes, and confirms the reality of what all of us commuters are afraid to admit we already know: our commutes are slowly killing us.

Of course there’s the concern of our physical health. It's the first thing we think of when we reflect on what makes a commute so horrible. The article discusses the slow demise of our health when we spend that much time in our cars each day. They called the habit a literal “life suck,” and for good reason; you know all those little health ailments that seem to have crept up on you? The migraines, the backache, the neck pain, the shoulder strain… your growing waistline… all of it can be attributed to your commute.

But then there’s the issue of our emotional health: commutes come with a great deal of stress. In fact, researchers found that, for most people, the commute is actually more stressful – and less pleasurable – than the entire work day. Considerably so. We spend our commutes feeling worried, anxious, angry, impatient, despondent… the emotions of a poor lifestyle.

And lastly, perhaps most disheartening: the toll it takes on our psychological well-being. Commutes drain the very liveliness from us. With it comes social isolation – which significantly undercuts happiness. It separates us from nearly every pleasurable thing - laughing, eating, socializing, having sex - that makes us who we are – “not doing any of the things that make human beings happy.” Do this for too many hours of our lives, and our lives begin to take on a grim tone.

So why do we all keep doing it?

Because we’re led to believe that a couple of hours a week feeling despair is drastically outweighed by the elation we’re told we feel when we arrive home at night. That home in the suburbs – the golden retriever, the white picket fence – that warranted that long drive in the first place.

Who tells us that this whole plan should make us happy? We convince each other.
(Perhaps after securing our own home in the burbs and hour-long drive. After all, misery loves company. And if others do it too, then you didn’t mess up so badly.)

This societal standard is also pushed on us by real estate agents, who argue: “drive until you qualify." “Many of us,” the article goes on: “work in towns or cities where houses are expensive. The further we move from work, the more house we can afford. Given the choice between a cramped two-bedroom apartment 10 minutes from work and a spacious four-bedroom house 45 minutes from it, we often elect the latter.” After all, we can see the extra square footage. And more importantly, we can show it to others. We can’t roll the dice on the intangible notion of what a smaller place closer to work could mean.

Tomorrow morning, on your commute, look yourself in that little rearview mirror - you'll probably have to adjust it a little. Really look yourself in the eye (preferably at a stop light) and ask yourself why you do it. Envision yourself not on the commute. Imagine the extra time in the morning and the evening, and think for a moment about how your life might better be spent with a few more hours in your life to do something you actually enjoy.

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