Ditching Your Commute Qualified: Worth ~$40K / Year In Happiness


5 years ago when I left Minneapolis to move to San Francisco, I went car-free and documented how even after a short time period I found the experience completely transformative for my life in a positive way. As positive if not more so than ditching cable TV or getting better and more consistent exercise.

Since then, I’ve shared several pieces of research indicating how your commute is causing unhappiness in a way you will never normalize against. This post shares more details + actual data, but it’s easily summarized in this graph:

So as someone who has been advocating a car-free lifestyle and trading your resource draining (both personal: time and money and global: pollution creation) car for a bike + walking / public & shared transit, I was pleased to see additional research on more benefits of ditching your commute. This time, from National Geographic fellow and author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way Dan Buettner. In an interview with NPR, Buettner says:

On why your commute may be making you less happy

“When you look at Americans’ day-to-day activity … the top two things we hate the most on a day-to-day basis is, No. 1: housework and No. 2: the daily commute in our cars. In fact, if you can cut an hourlong commute each way out of your life, it’s the [happiness] equivalent of making up an extra $40,000 a year if you’re at the $50- to $60,000 level. Huge … [So] it’s an easy way for us to get happier. Move closer to your place of work.”

So not only will a commute consistently make you unhappy, but we have a reasonable metric, say about 40K a year in dollars (which if you’re making 60K is a 66% increase in monetary happiness). Truthfully as someone who has done this it feels about right and that 66% number should scale with your pay. I ran the numbers personally and I gained back about 3.1% of my day back M-F.  Doesn’t sound like much?  This equals +195.75 hours (+8.1 days) per year of driving time I’m getting back. With the logic that time is the most valuable resource you have, ask yourself: is 8.1 days of your life per year not stuck in traffic worth $40K? I think so. It’s like a whole week to live you are losing right now.

Not to mention, I’m saving thousands of dollars a year using my bike, public / shared transit, Uber and Zipcar which are all small infrequent expenses in comparison. Recurring insurance + gas + parking + payments? Forget it.

Some more data besides my personal experience: you could afford a house priced 15K more for each mile you move closer to work, the well being and health of those with longer commutes is worse and those who work remotely wouldn’t give it up for more money.

So if you’re still driving to work every day it’s worth it in so many ways to find a way to not do this or at least minimize it (say, work from home or at least take public transit so you can make positive use of the time). I think it’s a huge reason millennials are continuing to choose to live in cities. This is a life change you should make. You are losing to time second-by-second, why do so stuck in a pollution-filled, congested mess?

Image credit: charnsitr / Shutterstock.com