Move closer to work–a short commute is worth more than a big house
Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy. Commuting is simply unpleasant; it lessens your time with your family, costs money, and stresses you out. And not only is it unpleasant for the commuter, it diminishes the happiness of his partner as well.
According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:
… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:
When people are asked about activities that make them happy, sex tops the list and commuting gets the very bottom spot. Nevertheless, people consistently believe that having a cheaper and bigger house or a higher paying job will compensate for having a longer commute. They are wrong. Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.
A man would have to make a full 40% more money in a job to compensate for a longer commute. And yet people will often still choose the bigger house over the smaller one and the chance to walk to work. Why? They make a “weighting mistake,” an error explained by author Jonah Leher and the psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis:
Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute. “People will think about this trade-off for a long time,” Dijksterhuis says. “And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad.” What’s interesting, Dijksterhuis says, is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They’ll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The pain of a lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom. But, as Dijksterhuis points out, that reasoning process is exactly backwards: “The additional bathroom is a completely superfluous asset for at least 362 or 363 days each year, whereas a long commute does become a burden after a while.”