COMMUTING: DOES IT HAVE TO BE A BURDEN?
It’s easy to hate overly cheerful people. Media Guru Ben Veal insists his newfound joy of the daily commute is for everyone – he honestly believes you’ll be cheering at the tailback! Check out his four top tips for finding delight during the daily grind. You won’t hate him for it.
Being a regular rail user, my interest was recently piqued by findings from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) on the topic of commuting. The study of both employees and self-employed people, entitled ‘ Commuting and Personal Well-being’, analysed how time spent commuting and the method of travel affect life satisfaction. The results were not pretty. They found that, “holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.” Ouch. And apparently the situation’s even worse for those who spend a large proportion of each working day on the road, with the report stating that people with journey times lasting between 61 and 90 minutes came off worst. For anyone who has ever had to commute to their place of work – and let’s face it, at some point or another, that will have been pretty much all of us – the report makes for compelling reading. The study delves deeper into the issue by making detailed comparisons between commuting and non-commuting, the amount of time spent commuting each day, and the method of travel used based on a sample of over 60,000 respondents – 91.5% of which were classified as commuters. However, it wasn’t just the study’s findings that intrigued me so much as how the media reported it with such negativity. For example, Philippa Roxby, health reporter for BBC News, remarked that, “the daily commute to work is something to be put up with rather than enjoyed ... [and] the average worker in Britain spends 54 minutes commuting each day.” This isn’t really altogether shocking. If anything, I was surprised that the number wasn’t higher, given that the UK is slowly dragging itself out of recession and into a very competitive job market. No, what interested me was the idea, supported by this report, that commuting to and from work is a wholly negative activity that simply has to be endured. That’s certainly not the way I see it.
Mastering the art of happy commuting
Commuting has been a key part of my working life for many years now. Over the years I’ve tried virtually every available method of travel available – including walking, driving and cycling – and have found that all have their own distinct disadvantages. These days, I’ve settled on catching the train and in recent months have found myself asking whether the daily commute has to be such a bad thing. With so many of us destined to spend countless hours staring at the same stretch of road or faces day-in-day-out, isn’t it ultimately up to us to make a change – to master the art of the commute? For me, this report could not have been published at a better time; it’s given me the extra incentive that I needed to overcome the drudgery of the daily commute and seek out the positives instead. As such, I’m currently exploring four simple ways to enjoy my train journey – and if you’re one of the many thousands of people that are in the same boat as me, I’d like to invite you to join me in taking control of your journey through the following:
Broaden your mind
Catching the train every day, I find that it’s all too easy to get agitated by delays, train faults and overcrowding (as followers of my Twitter account will no doubt be aware). More recently, though, I have instead seen these minor griev-
ances as exactly that – minor – and have focused my energy on using this bonus time to work my way through some of the literary classics that I’ve always been meaning to get round to reading. I’ve reached my destination at exactly the same time, but with slightly less worry lines on my face at the end of the journey. Reading is a tremendous stress reliever, as confirmed by research carried out at the University of Sussex. Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis explained the calming effects of literature, stating, “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” Oh, and of course, if you can’t think of a suitable novel right now, there are now almost three years’ worth of Guru Magazine also available for free at your digital fingertips(!) Alternatively, if you prefer to listen, or you drive to work each day, audiobooks and podcasts are also great ways to explore topics in detail while still focusing on the world around you.
Don’t be a stranger
Train journeys serve as a great opportunity to meet other people. If anyone should know, it’s me. Almost a decade ago now, I shared polite conversation with a young lady standing next to me in a crowded carriage. We had a great deal in common and six hours later, we were still talking animatedly. Two years after that, we were married. (Moral of this story: be careful who you speak to! – Ed) When you’re doing the same journey every day, it can be easy to stick to your individual routine and not reach out to those around. Face to face communication makes us happier and healthier people so it’s worthwhile peering outside of our little zones for opportunities to relate to those around us. You never know what may happen as a result. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to catching the train. If driving to work is your preferred method of transport, then offering to share your car with a colleague could be a great way to get to know them and to have the kind of deep conversations that just aren’t possible beside the water-cooler.
Be a nice person
As well as connecting with those around us, there is a close association between being kind and our psychological wellbeing. But being a nice person in the midst of the rush hour when every second counts isn’t particularly natural. I’ve given it a go, though, and would wholeheartedly encourage looking for opportunities to perform random acts of kindness. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can be a great boost to find another passenger on the train – an elderly person, for example – who may benefit from the seat instead of me. After all, it’s really no skin off my nose; I’m about to spend the next nine hours sitting on my behind. Commuting can be a burden – but it doesn’t have to be. In order to make a living and do the job that we want to do, the vast majority of us will have to make that journey each day, regardless of whether we wish to or not. It’s part of our lives and, if you’re an ‘ average’ Brit, then you’re likely to spend an average of 13,550 minutes – or 225 hours – doing it each year. In America and Canada, it is 105 hours and in South Africa, 233 hours. So wherever or however you do it, you might as well take steps to enjoy it.