Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happiness is a short commute

Via Matt Yglesias, I note this piece from a recent David Brooks column.
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
One reason I fell in love with real estate was that I quickly realized that it tied together so many other disciplines.  I was first exposed to these ideas as a 20-year old History undergrad, when I took a class called History of Suburbia.  We talked about how living in far-flung developments and driving an hour to work every day inevitably leads to isolation.  We talked about the costs of commuting and the effect on our physical health.  We talked about the effect on youth, and how being chaperoned around for 16 years inevitably stunts development.  Big surprise that everyone goes off to college and goes nuts - it's the first time in their life they've ever had any autonomy.  We talked about the decline of communities, and the loss of public life.  We also talked about red-lining and the racial history of suburbia.

The connection between our social, psychological lives and the physical way we live simply made sense to me.  So I'm not surprised to see some quantitative analysis on how much we value the interactions that in-town living makes much easier.  The fact that commuting is negatively correlated with happiness doesn't surprise me - not only does the actual commute suck, but it prohibits all manner of other meaningful activities.  It is a lot harder to find time to socialize after work or have dinner with friends when you spend two or three hours a day commuting.

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