Long Commute . . . Worth the Trip?

In evaluating a current job, or considering a new one, many factors typically come into play, such as salary, benefits, bonus potential, title, quality of work, room for advancement, and office culture.  All too often, however, there is one factor on which we place too little emphasis – our commute.

Ask yourself:  when presented with a choice of accepting a job that pays a better salary but requires a longer commute, or taking a job that pays less but is close to home, which would you choose?  If you would take the higher salary without skipping a beat, read on.  The effects of a long commute on your physical and mental health, as well as your wallet, may surprise you.

Caution Ahead:  Commuting may be hazardous to your health.

Recent studies have shown that a commute to work that lasts longer than 10 minutes is associated with higher blood sugar, higher cholesterol levels, and a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation.  That is disconcerting news when the average one-way commute for an American worker is 25 minutes.

Another recent study that compared the overall wellness of people who commute to work for any length of time, to those who do not commute to work, found that people who commute experience lower life satisfaction and happiness.  In fact, riding a bus for 30 minutes or more was associated with the lowest levels of life satisfaction.  That same study noted that commuters, particularly those who drive in rush hour, high-density traffic, experience temporary spikes in stress levels, which results in an elevated blood pressure.

A Texas study reinforced that conclusion, finding that the longer a person commutes, the higher their blood pressure is over time.  Also, a long period of time sitting in a car, or on mass transit, takes away from time that could be otherwise spent exercising, resulting in lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and a greater risk for back pain.

Financial and Social potholes you hit while commuting.

Not only can your physical and mental well being be impacted, but a long commute can put a strain on your pocketbook as well.  Consider the costs associated with a commute to work:  paying for gas, wear and tear on your car, and higher insurance rates.  Even for a mass transit commuter, monthly passes on the train or bus, with possible parking costs at the station, can add up quickly.

A lengthy commute also results in diminished social activities, which could also lead to higher rates of stress and decreased life satisfaction.  One 2008 study found that people with longer commutes were less likely to spend time with friends, were more likely to miss children’s school activities, and less likely to eat dinner with friends and family.

The Road to Happiness?  Consider shortening the distance between home and work.

So, what do all the statistics and studies above suggest?  Given the potential hazards to living with a long commute, it makes sense to minimize the length of your commute.  At the very least, make your daily commute one of the more important factors when deciding on a career opportunity.  Indeed, one happiness researcher, a National Geographic fellow and author named Dan Buettner, quantified the issue, concluding that cutting an hour out of a commute each way is the happiness equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year!

Accordingly, when faced with the choice of better pay or a better commute, remember that staying close to home could be like adding $40,000 to your overall compensation.  So, if your commute is long now and is taking its toll on your body and spirit, think about looking for a job closer to home, even for a little less money.  The $40,000 increase in happiness will pay dividends in the long run.  Are you ready to make your move?

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