Walk or cycle
A study published in 2014 by researchers at the University of East Anglia, England, looked at data from 18,000 commuters in the UK over a period of 18 years and found that a switch in a person’s commute from driving to walking or cycling was associated with an increase in psychological wellbeing. This was in addition to the physical benefits of an active commute, which were already well-documented. If your workplace is within walking or cycling distance, why not leave the car at home? If you live in cooler or wetter climes, perhaps you could try traveling under your own power during the summer months.
In fact, a surprising outcome of the study was that even moving to public transport brought an increased level of happiness to erstwhile drivers. Public transport might be associated with stressful things like crowds and late buses and trains, but it also leaves more time to listen to music, socialize or just look out the window.
Try talking to a stranger
I know what you’re thinking. Am I really suggesting you strike up a conversation with the total stranger next to you on the train? Won’t it simply make them uncomfortable as they desperately look for an excuse to get back to their phone?
Well, according to fascinating research from the University of Chicago, it probably won’t – and it may well make both of you enjoy your commute more. Psychologists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder asked a group of people how much they thought they would enjoy speaking to a stranger on their commute, as well as how likely the stranger would be to find the experience pleasant. Then they asked a random group of people to strike up a conversation and found that people had consistently underestimated both elements. They had guessed that they would find the conversation worse than solitude and that the other party would react negatively - but they turned out to be wrong on both counts.
Ah, but you’re an introvert, so this doesn’t apply to you, right? Well, Epley and Schroeder’s research suggests otherwise – they found that these effects were present for introverts and extroverts equally. The only difference was that the introverts in the study were more likely to think that the stranger would be unhappy at being spoken to (and hence were more wrong). It’s a radical idea, but why not give it a try and find out whether the psychologists are right?
Don’t feel pressure to work
I’ll confess something to you. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a morning person. My brain grinds into gear each day only with the acceleration of a rattling old 1950s car. Once I’ve got going, of course, I’ll have great ideas firing off left, right and center – I promise. But first let me drink my coffee, and don’t expect any strokes of genius for another couple of hours.
Given that, there’s not much point in me using my time on the train to answer any emails or think about anything too complicated. It's better to allow myself to wake up slowly, then properly get going once I’m at my desk. And even if you rise all bright and breezy in the morning, don’t feel like you need to use time in your commute for productive purposes either. It’s ok to have some time to look out the window and think, too. Indeed, sometimes the best ideas come to us when we just sit and let our minds wander.
Commuting needn’t be miserable – and indeed, it shouldn’t be. Find what’s best for you and turn your quotidian shuttle between the house and office into a more enjoyable time.