According to a paper by the Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, a person with a one-hour car commute must earn 40 percent more money to have a sense of well-being equal to someone who walks (or rides their bike) to work. Fey and Stutzer say that people underestimate the down side of a long commute when choosing a home, and that psychologically, a long commute often negates the benefits gained by living in the suburbs.
From the paper Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox:
“People spend a lot of time commuting and often find it a burden. According to economics, the burden of commuting is chosen when compensated either on the labor or on the housing market so that individuals’ utility is equalized. However, in a direct test of this strong notion of equilibrium, we find that people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being. Additional empirical analyses do not find institutional explanations of the empirical results that commuters systematically incur losses. We discuss several possibilities of an extended model of human behavior able to explain this “commuting paradox”.”
While my experiences commuting by car are certainly in agreement with the Frey and Stutzer study, I believe in some circumstances it’s possible to have your commuting cake and eat it too. My 60-mile round-trip commute through the city — a commute that most would consider torturous by car — is a good example. By combining a bike ride, a train ride, and a walk, I manage to live in the suburbs while avoiding the stress of a long freeway commute in heavy traffic. Plus, I gain the benefits of exercise and a significant amount of personal time everyday, both of which were previously difficult to fit into my busy schedule.
I think the take away here is that getting out of your car is a very important aspect of living more peacefully. Whether you live close enough to walk or ride your bike to work, or if you are able to combine a bike ride with a bus or train ride to cover a longer distance, eliminating the stress that is part-and-parcel of commuting by car will very likely make you a happier person.