UBC psychologist and researcher Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of Happy Money, says there’s more at stake in the Metro Vancouver transit referendum than shorter commute times and climate change. The way you vote could also impact your happiness level.
How does commuting affect a person’s overall happiness?
If you look at how happy people feel during common daily activities, from working to childcare to housework, commuting typically comes in last. In fact, the more time we spend commuting, the less happy we are likely to be. Some of the statistics are fairly staggering. In terms of happiness, adding an hour to one’s commute is equivalent to becoming unemployed.
Commuting just isn’t that pleasant, compared to other things we could be doing with our time. I would encourage people to ask themselves: if you had an extra 20 to 30 minutes of time today, what would you do with that time? Would it be happier than the time you currently spend commuting?
What makes a commute more enjoyable?
The shorter you can make your commute the better. But besides the length of the commute, commuting is likely to be less stressful when the transit that you’re taking is reliable. If you can’t count on being able to get on an overcrowded bus, for example, and you can’t rely the bus arriving when it’s supposed to, it’s likely to increase your stress level.
Interestingly, there’s some evidence from New York that people are actually less stressed when they take a train as opposed to driving. Taking the train tends to take less effort and be less unpredictable than driving. It shows that the quality of public transit can make a real difference in people’s day-to-day happiness levels.
Is a vote in support of the transit referendum a vote for happiness?
It’s forecasted that the mayors’ transit plan could lead to a 20 minute reduction in commuting time, which is equivalent to having your income rise by a third, in terms of the benefits for happiness. There’s been a lot of talk about the potential financial costs and benefits of the transit plan. But from my perspective, the ultimate benefit of a yes vote is a boost in happiness.
This Q & A originally appeared on the UBC News website.