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Thursday 23 May 2019

Commuting Your Way To Happiness

The driving force behind unhappiness
Earlier this week, while I was at work, my wife sent me a picture of a fort she had built for her and Stealthy Junior. She told me that the little guy was absolutely loving it, and having a lot of fun. She suggested I come pay them a visit to see for myself.

So I made the trip home to experience life as a citizen of Fort Stealthy over my lunch break.

It was well worth it – there was some excellent Fort cuisine, and I was entertained by the many Fort residents (including Elephant, Cow and Bunny).

Fort Stealthy
On the drive back to work, I realised that this little outing was only possible because of the short distance between my work and our home. If I stayed further away, the travel time would have made my visit to Fort Stealthy impossible.

Now I agree that on this occasion the convenience was only for some fort fun, but in future it could be for things like sports matches or graduations – things which Stealthy Junior would really appreciate me being there for, and which I would really regret missing.

Either way, I chalked my Fort visit down to yet another item on what I realised was an ever growing list of advantages of living close to work.

The years have ticked by since we made the move from Sandton to Centurion, and I have realised more and more that it has honestly been one of the best decisions we have ever made, both from a financial and a quality of life point of view.

Firstly, Centurion housing is on the cheaper end of the South African spectrum. This meant we were able to get a house which met our needs, while taking on considerably less debt than we would have had to in order to get an equivalent place in Sandton. And while that cost benefit is really great, it is little more than a nice side effect to the real benefit of our move - we now lived really close to where I worked1.

I have really started seeing the immense benefits of this. There is the immediately obvious financial gains of a significantly lower petrol bill (mine is currently around R180 a month) and the many hours of extra time I have saved myself, but then there are also the numerous other softer benefits - including increased happiness.

Right, time to unpack the many advantages of a short commute...

Less Commuting = More Money

I already touched on the petrol saving of living close to work. But there are so many additional financial benefits.

For starters, consider that each car has x km before it needs it’s next service, y km till it needs new tyres and z km until it will need a repair (with a bit of luck, x, y and z don't happen at the same time!) The shorter your commute, the slower you will accumulate the kilometres until you need to fork out money for maintenance and repairs. And while a reduced commute won’t change the cost of any services or repairs, it will reduce the frequency at which you need to do them. So you save money on a per year basis, but you also have more time in-between to save up for/recover from car related expenses.

Related to the above point, remember that a car can only do a certain amount of kilometres until it no longer makes sense to keep it running. At this point you will need to buy a new car. A shorter commute will prolong the life of your car in years, and allow you to buy fewer cars in your lifetime. This means fewer car loans, and an increased likelihood of being able to buy your next car cash.

A shorter commute may also mean lower insurance costs. Some of the car insurance companies factor in how long your commute is when they calculate your premium – the shorter the commute, the lower premium. This is because a short commute means less chance of an accident claim.

And then finally, living close to work may mean you don’t need to drive at all. If you are only a few kilometres away, suddenly a whole host of additional transport options get opened up. You may even be able to become a one car family (like us) and walk, bike or even make like Stealthy and scooter to work2.

All of the above can easily result in savings of tens of thousands of Rands per year, and millions over a working career!

Less Commuting = More Time

This, for me, is a biggie! The additional time I have scored by reducing my commute has allowed me to be healthier, fitter, more fulfilled, and a better, more present father.

For starters, without the extra time, it is unlikely I would have even started this blog. A long commute sucks up time which could be used for hobbies and interests. Time spent wasting away in a car could instead be used for something enjoyable, productive or fulfilling (or, in the case of this blog, all 3!)

One of the most common reason’s people give for not exercising is that they do not have the time. A shorter commute can solve this. With my previous long commute, there would be no ways I could juggle fatherhood, household responsibilities and social events all while trying to find time to train for Comrades. The choice of where we live is a direct reason for me being able to line up outside Durban City Hall on 9 June this year.

More time also means healthier eating and fewer takeaways. When I get home there is plenty time for me to use my expert cooking dish washing skills to assist Mrs Stealthy in whipping up some tasty and nutritious food. No need to hit the nearest takeaway due to the time pressures of arriving home late.

Less Commuting = Even More Great Benefits

And then there are a whole host of additional benefits associated with a short commute. I have listed some of them below:
  1. Less chance of accidents – It’s simple Maths, the less time you are on on the road, the less chance that you will be involved in an accident.
  2. Prolong your life – South Africa has a horrible annual road death count. You can reduce your chances of becoming a statistic by reducing the amount of time you are on the road.
  3. Predictable and consistent commute time – I can pretty much predict the exact time I will get home each day. A shorter commute means traffic has less of an influence on my journey time. I also never have to factor in any “in case of traffic” time into my commuting.
  4. Convenience – There have been countless examples where I have quickly slipped back home – after forgetting my work’s access tag, to pick up a delivery, to let the plumber in, or even just to play fort! Working close to home can be extremely convenient! 
  5. Reduced stress - A shorter drive means that there is less chance you will need to flip the bird to that @#$%ing moron who just cut you off. In fact, in the 4 years since our move to Centurion I can't recall even a single occurrence of me getting even slightly angry at another driver or even mildly stressed out from traffic.

Less Commuting = More Happiness

Do you think people who have less financial pressure, find the time to exercise, eat healthier, have more time for enjoyable activities and have lower levels of stress would be happier than their counterparts?

Duh! Seems obvious right?

So then it makes perfect sense that all the benefits of a short commute would result in a happier commuter. But just in case it wasn't obvious enough, people decided to go all scientific and do some research to confirm it.

I really like this chart which came out of one of the studies done on life satisfaction versus commute time. In short the they found that the longer it takes someone to get to work, the lower their life satisfaction (a.k.a. happiness).

This graph (thanks Alois Stutzer & Bruno S. Frey) summarises the findings

As you can see, the shorter the commute, the greater the life satisfaction. Best results seem to be at a one way commute time of around 5 minutes. My current commute time is around that mark, and I must say I am in full agreement!

Life satisfaction decreases pretty quickly from 5 to 25 minutes, and then gets progressively worse from 25 minutes onward. With a previous commute time of around 1 hour each way, I can again personally vouch for this.

In short, living close to where you work is a great happiness hack!

Let's Get Practical

Of course minimising your commute time may sound all good and well in theory, but in practice it is seldom that easy.

I can appreciate that the decision of where to live is one that should not be taken lightly. Of course you want a safe area, in a good neighbourhood which also factors in proximity to family and friends. Then there is also your significant other’s work location to consider, and throw some children into the mix, and there is whole host of additional influences! For all the young, single and childless people reading this, keep that in mind - living close to work is a lot easier to get right before you have children, and probably before you get married.

Either way, I think it is important to at least take the time to think about your current location and give some serious consideration to trying to find a location which balances all the personal factors with the amount of total commuting you do. Believe me when I say, minimising your commuting can be well worth packing up and moving!

In the comments
For those of you with a short commute:
- Are there any other benefits I may have missed?
- Do you agree with the correlation between a short commute time and increased happiness?

For those of you with a long commute:
- We were fortunate because moving closer to my work was an easy decision to make. For others the choice could be a lot more complicated. What are the factors preventing you from moving in order to reduce your commute time?
- Is there something I may have overlooked that makes your long commute worth it?
- Are there any advantages of a long commute? For example I used to get through some emails and did some reading when I used to use the Gautrain.

Till next time, Stay Stealthy!
 - ~ - ~

Yes it did mean my wife had an increased commute for a few months, but that soon became a non-issue after she took her maternity leave followed by her signing up for the toughest job in the world.

Some people are alarmed at my seemingly total disregard for safety by driving a scooter to work and back every day. While I agree there are risks to this form of transport, I would argue that my +-5km commute is much safer than someone who climbs onto a highway twice a day.

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