The other day, New York Times columnist David Brooks, summarizing recent research into happiness, wrote that while “the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting.”
According to studies, joining a group and going to just one meeting a month produces happiness equivalent to doubling your income, while being married is equal to adding $100,000 to your annual earnings, Brooks writes.
In his blog, The Frontal Cortex, neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer delves more deeply into studies that suggest that when purchasing homes people regularly underestimate the pain of a longer commute in favor of the seduction of getting a larger house. “The commuters paradox,” as it was called by Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, found that this miscalculation leads people to mistakenly believe that the big house in the exurbs will make them happier, even though it might force them to drive an additional hour to work. Frey and Stutzer also found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
The reason commuting is so painful, says Lehrer, citing other research, is that traffic inherently unpredictable and therefore we can’t habituate ourselves to it. “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day,” says Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Nonetheless, our commutes get ever longer, with more than 3.5 million Americans now spending more than three hours each day traveling to work and home. The reason why it has such a depressing effect on us, I would speculate is different: Sitting. Not moving our bodies, that is. Muscular inactivity. A newly-released study by Indiana University researchers (and reported on the university website @ http://bit.ly/bJH0Y3) found that physical activity throughout the day—simply moving—is related to positive feelings.
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