The average daily commute in the U.S. is about 25 minutes. The shortest average daily commute is about 15 minutes for people living in Midwest cities like Witchita, Omaha, and Tulsa. New Yorkers have the longest commute — 38 minutes, which is six minutes longer than the average commute time in Chicago. The average commute is increasing across the board, including the number of people who have extreme commutes – 90 minutes or more.
A lot of people try to justify their outrageously long commute. I think this is delusional, and I would know, because I used to have one: Two hours each way between Los Angeles and San Diego. Two hours, that is, if I left home at 5 a.m. and went home at 8 p.m. I thought it would be okay because the money was so good, but actually, I nearly lost my mind.
So think twice about accepting an outrageous commute in order to make outrageous amounts of money. Especially if your extreme commute means that the time outside of work for family and friends is gone – to the car ride. Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London published research to show that if you are going to take a job where you will give up seeing family and friends on a regular basis, you would need to earn $133,000 just to make up for the lack of happiness you feel from being away from those people.
The idea that you move deep into the suburbs to get a huge house is pretty much over. Gen X and Y don’t believe in McMansions, which is why there’s a glut of them on the market right now. But Gen X and Y do believe in maintaining nimble, flexible careers, so it’s surprising that this trend isn’t the nail in the coffin of deep suburbia. Because Brendan, at The Where Blog, points out that the values we hold highest – marriage, community, and extra time with the family – are falling apart in the face of a long commute as we are in our cars commuting for so long and spending days far away from our communities during the day.
And, if the city is too far to justify driving in for a part-time job, then your commute limits the way you can structure your family. For example, polls show most mothers would rather work part-time than be at home full-time with their children, but Wendy Waters points out, in her blog All About Cities, that the possibilities for part-time work are severely limited if home is a long commute from the city. For both spouses.
But even if you are not killing your spouse’s career potential with your choices for a commute, the amount of stress a commute brings on is bigger than you could imagine and it’s uncontainable.
This is because a bad commute is bad in a different way every day, and you can’t predict it. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains (video) that the human mind is great at adapting to things that won’t change: we convince ourselves we will be fine, and then it becomes basically true that we will be. But if things change all the time, we cannot use that adaptive part of our brain. In this way, having a bad commute is worse than losing a limb.
So if you have a bad commute, you are probably not very happy. And you should know that a bad commute spills over into all aspects of your life. Raymond Novaco, a psychologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that bad traffic on the way home makes for a bad mood in the evening. This is true regardless of age, gender, income, and job satisfaction.
A lot of managing your daily commute comes down to making compromises in terms of limiting where you can take a job, what kind of job you can take, and how big a yard your kids can have to run in. For most of us, a long commute is about getting a better job in exchange for less personal time. But the decision about how far to commute is like most career decision points in that you must consider that your biggest problems will not be solved by getting a better job or more money, they will be solved by spending more time with friends and family, or getting to know yourself better.