According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 86% of employees drive to work, and the vast majority of these trips (75%) are taken by a single person. Most vehicles are on the road between 6:00 am and 8:30 am, and the average commute takes approximately 25 minutes, which adds up to 12,500 minutes per year. For people who choose to use public transportation or carpool, this time can be viewed as an opportunity to relax or get a jumpstart on the workday.
While technological advancements might expand your commuting options in the future, here are six strategies you can use now to help you add more happiness to your daily commute.
Take public transportation. Not only is using public transportation instead of driving to work a great way to reduce your ecological footprint, it also relieves you from stress that is often associated with heavy commuter traffic. Instead of paying careful attention to the road, you can focus on a good book, review for a presentation, catch up on email or simply relax. In fact, a recent study found that “making the switch from driving to other forms of public transport prompted an increase in [participants’] scores on the wellbeing test.” If you use public transportation, check with your employer to see if you have a commuter benefits program—these types of programs allow you to set aside a certain amount of pre-tax dollars each month for commuting costs. This can add up to a substantial amount of savings each year.
Walk or bike to the metro or bus stop. Starting your morning commute with a bit of physical activity can boost your productivity throughout the day. In addition to the long-term benefits associated with physical activity, research indicates people also experience a “burst of pleasant-activated feelings,” which can help make your commute a happier experience.
Join a carpool. If public transportation is not a viable option for you, you can also consider joining a carpool. Carpooling allows you to network with other employees, save money on gas, reduce wear and tear on your car, and get to work faster by using HOV lanes. If you don’t have someone to carpool with, try resources like commutesolutions.com, which pairs you up with another commuter in your area.
Leave early. Giving yourself extra time for your commute will help eliminate some of the emotional and physical stress you experience along the way. By leaving early and allocating more time for your commute, you will feel less rushed and you will have a stronger sense of control over your day, which can enhance your overall sense of happiness.
Master a new skill or pursue an online degree. Take advantage of the time you spend on your commute to read, listen to audiobooks, or tune into NPR or a podcast. Many metropolitan transportation systems are even providing Wi-Fi for riders, which allow you easier access to online tools like videos or TED Talks. Spending time learning during your commute can contribute to your happiness as well. According to the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, a strong correlation exists between educational attainment and happiness.
You could even use your commute to take online classes or complete coursework. Many accredited and well-regarded colleges and universities now offer online degree programs. Students can work on assignments from home, work, or on the go. For example, the online MBA program from UNC Kenan-Flagler incorporates “dynamic coursework which includes videos, group projects and interactive online assignments” that can be completed anytime and anywhere.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger. In a study conducted with commuters in Chicago, researchers found that people who engaged a stranger in conversation reported having a more pleasurable commute than those who did not. However, if you’re not comfortable talking with a stranger, this might be a perfect time to call friends and family who you know will boost your mood. Of course, it’s also okay to use your commute as a time to reflect and savor some alone time that is frequently hard to come by at work or home.
Like many things in life, perspective is everything. With a positive attitude, you can turn a challenging situation into a valuable opportunity. Instead of dreading your morning commute, fill it with things that make you feel good about your day. Whether that means reading a book, pursuing a new degree or chatting up a fellow commuter, this is your time to find happiness.
Becca Martin is the community manager for the University of North Carolina’s MBA online program. Becca graduated from Loyola University in Maryland with a B.A. in Business Administration and a concentration in marketing. An avid traveler and lover of all things tech, Becca spent a year abroad working for a technology company in the wine sector. Now, back in the USA, Becca spends her spare time visiting friends in other cities, volunteering, and playing tennis. Follow her on Twitter @bsmart10.