The commute

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Transition

I used to commute to Redmond to a job I loved. But I can still feel the trapped frustration of sitting on the 520 bridge in the dark winter afternoon, rain streaking down the windshield, red brake lights as far as I could see. Just sitting, waiting, my youth ticking by.

“What would the commute be like?” is one of my go-to questions when I help coaching clients evaluate job offers.

The commute is easy to gloss over in the glow of an offer. Coaching clients will tell me it’s a dream job, full of opportunity and promise, and that the one-hour commute (each way!) will be fine. They’ll listen to self-help audio books, they say. They’ll have time to write that novel, and it’ll be good to have the time to decompress.

I don’t let my clients tell themselves that story.

“How long is that commute?” I badger.

Our commute has a quantifiable impact on our overall happiness. In “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” Swiss businessman and Rolf Dobelli advises: “Avoid negative things that you cannot grow accustomed to, such as commuting, noise or chronic stress.”

A long commute may sound tolerable in theory, he cautions, “But studies show that commuting by car represents a major source of discontent and stress, and people hardly ever get used to it. In other words, whoever has no innate affinity for commuting will suffer every day — twice a day.”

That shiny new opportunity may look great on paper: interesting work, great people, great money. But the day-to-day grind of the commute is a critical consideration in terms of our long-term happiness and health.

Swiss study found that “for every minute longer a worker spends getting to work, he will be less satisfied with their life.”

According to Scientific American, the 2004 report found that “Germans who commuted two hours a day were so much more dissatisfied than those with the average commute of 40 minutes that it would take a 40 percent raise in pay to make up for the disgruntledness.”

A coaching client described her 90-minute commute.

“I did the dumbest thing today,” she exclaimed. “I got up, got ready for work, kissed my sleeping kids goodbye, and got all the way to the highway before I realized it was 12:30 a.m.!”

She laughed.

“I don’t have to be at work until 7,” she said, a little worriedly. “No wonder I was so tired.”

The reality of commuting to work is not all doom and gloom, however.

A 2014 study found that “psychological well-being, including the ability to concentrate and happiness, was higher for people commuting by active travel, like walking or public transport, compared to driving,” according to Psychology Today.

Interestingly, the article outlines how “Longer travel time for walkers actually improved well-being, whereas the opposite was true for drivers.” (Emphasis is mine since I walk to work — the best part of my day.)

As you build your career, make sure the commute is part of your calculus. It could be a key to your happiness.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.