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The Science Behind A Happier Commute

car trip

For commuters currently struggling with the ‘failing’ Southern Rail (London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s choice of word, not mine) it will no doubt feel like nothing short of a way to teleport to work will help.

But even those of us that aren’t blighted by repeated strikes and severely reduced services can find commuting an unpleasant experience to say the least. If you count yourself in this second group, be grateful that at least science might be able to afford you a happier commute.

The Science Behind A Happier Commute - Infographic

Be kind: give up your seat, allow a bus to pull out in front of you, or help someone struggling with a door. 

Higher levels of endogenous opioids give you a ‘helper’s high’ that makes you happier. Acts of kindess have also been scientifically proven to be contagious, inspiring others to  be kind.

The Journal of Social Psychology, “Acts of Kindness and Acts of Novelty Affect Life Satisfaction.” Biological Psychology “Autonomic and prefrontal events during moral elevation.”

Don’t skip breakfast, and choose water over a second cup of coffee.

Dehydration and low blood sugar levels can make you feel lightheaded and nauseous, while excess caffeine can cause anxiety.

Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, “Neuropsychiatric effects of Caffeine.” Official NHS Guidance.

Instead of ‘mistakenly seeking solitude’, talk to a stranger. (Yes, really.) 

Studies show the unhappiness accompanying public commutes can be removed by giving into our social instincts instead of inhibiting them.

Journal of Experimental Psychology, “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude.”

Turn off radio news bulletins, decline the free newspaper, and keep off social media (if you’re a woman).

Distressing news stories have been shown to make women more reactive to stressful situations, which can heighten nervousness and even fear or aggression.

PLoS One, “There Is No News Like Bad News: Women Are More Remembering and Stress Reactive after Reading Real Negative News than Men.”

Focus on what you will achieve in work this week, not the traffic jam or delay.

The negative relationship between commute time and job satisfaction doesn’t exist for people who score highly for self control – visualise what you want to accomplish in work this week and beyond.

Harvard Business School, “Commuting with a Plan: How Goal-Directed Prospection Can Offset the Strain of Commuting.”

Curate a long playlist of music that makes you feel calm and happy, then put it on shuffle.

Dopamine responses are heigtened by uncertainty – unexpectedly hearing music you enjoy will give more pleasure than if it comes as no surprise.

Trends in Cognitive Science, “Predictions and the brain: how musical sounds become rewarding.”

When all else fails, smile – even if it’s fake.

Your body’s stress response can be reduced even by forcing a smile when you don’t feel happy.

Psychological Science, “Grin and bear it: the influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response.”