When I was growing up, my mom always walked to work. Starting in about 4th grade, I walked to school. When I graduated college and moved to Chicago to live with my then-fiancé, I made a point of only looking for apartments that were close enough for one or both of us to walk to work.
The longest commutes I’ve had were about 10 miles one-way. In the city of Chicago, ten miles can easily translate to an hour-long car commute, in traffic. While I did occasionally walk those 10 miles — hey, it only takes about two and a half hours — more often I took the train, or bicycled.
I never realized how important those choices were to my happiness until I had a partner who made different ones. My impression of the horror, the cost, and the endless time suck that was commuting lasted. The relationship didn’t.
The choice to live close to your workplace isn’t always easy. If you’ve bought a house and your job moves, or you lose one job and get a new one, or if a partner takes a new job across town, it can take a good long time to find a new place to live. There may not be an ideal compromise, if you’re in a household with more than one job.
But shortening your commute is one alternative that it’s worth your time to look into.
Dozens of studies over the years have found that shortening your commute may be the easiest way to make yourself happier, and that the people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with their lives. Long commutes by public transit or by car, especially those involving heavy traffic like Chicago, correlate with higher stress and more illness-related absences from work.
I decided last month not even to apply for a job that would have had me commuting an hour one way. As ideal a match as my skill set was, the length of the commute and the fact that they would have needed me on site every day had me dreading the drive while I was still reading the job description. With the small business I run right now, I work from home or from my clients’ homes, and whether I have zero commute or an hour commute, I’m doing what I love to do.
How long is your commute? Do you have the opportunity to use your commute as leisure time — to listen to audiobooks, read, listen to music? What keeps you from living closer to where you work? Would your employer be open to letting you work from home one or two days a week? How much time would you save if you lived within walking distance of work, and what would you be giving up? Could moving closer to one person’s work allow you to have fewer cars than adults in your household? What benefits would come along with having a shorter commute, or none at all?