Commuting and Happiness: What Ways Feel Best for What Kinds of People?

  • Sascha Lancée
  • Martijn Burger
  • Ruut Veenhoven
Part of the Applying Quality of Life Research book series (BEPR)


How happy we are, depends partly on how we live our life and part of our way of life is how we commute between home and work. In that context, we are faced with the question of how much time spent on commuting is optimal happiness wise and with what means of transportation we will feel best. Decisions about commuting are typically made as a side issue in job choice and there are indications that we are bad in predicting how such decisions will work out on our happiness in the long-run. For that reason, it is helpful to know how commuting has worked out on the happiness of other people and on people like you in particular. Several cross-sectional studies found lower happiness among long-distance commuters and among users of public transportation. Yet these differences could be due to selection effects, such as unhappy people opting more often for distant jobs without having a car. Still another limitation is that earlier research has focused on the average effect of commuting, rather than specifying what is optimal for whom. Data of the Dutch ‘Happiness Indicator’ study was analyzed, in the context of which 5000 participants recorded what they had done in the previous day and how happy they had felt during these activities. This data allows comparison between how the same person feels at home and during commute, which eliminates selection effects. The number of participants is large enough to allow a split-up between different kinds of people, in particular among the many well-educated women who participated in this study. People feel typically less happy when commuting than at home, and that the negative difference is largest when commuting with public transportation and smallest when commuting by bike. It is not per se the commuting time that causes happiness loss, but specific combinations of commuting time and commuting mode. Increasing commuting times can even lead to a gain in happiness for certain types of women, when the commute is by bike. Split-up by different kinds of people shows considerable differences, such as an optimal commute alone or even by public transport for some highly educated women. Optimal ways of commuting for different kinds of people are presented in a summary table, from which individuals can read what will fit them best. The differences illustrate that research focusing on average effects of happiness will not help individuals in making a more informed choice.


Happiness Hedonic level of affect Mood during commute Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sascha Lancée
    • 1
  • Martijn Burger
    • 1
  • Ruut Veenhoven
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization (EHERO)Erasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Opentia Research ProgramNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa

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