Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Aug 17th 2006 at 8:48am UTC

WSJ On Happiness, Money, and Commuting

For a long time we’ve know that money is NOT the key to happiness. Yesterday’s WSJ reports (sub required) on recent research into happiness including a new publication by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and others. Among the findings: more money does not necessarily translate into more happiness.

The story notes that two things that can improve happiness are keeping your commute time short and making good use of leisure time. From the article,

“Keep your commute short. Tempted to use your latest pay raise to buy a big house in a distant suburb? Don’t do it. While we often adjust amazingly well to life’s hardships, commuting is an exception. ‘You can’t adapt to commuting, because it’s entirely unpredictable,’ says Daniel Gilbert, author of ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ and a psychology professor at Harvard University. ‘Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.’

“Use your leisure time wisely. Surveys show that leisure is better for your happiness than work. But much also depends on how you spend your leisure time. Passive activities like watching television usually don’t make folks as happy as eating. A good meal, in turn, doesn’t rank quite as highly as active leisure activities, such as socializing with friends.”

I’ve worked with Kahneman on happiness research (we are both Gallup Senior Scientists) on Gallup’s Soul of the City survey. My new book will include several chapters on place and happiness and results show that the place you live has a BIG effect on happiness. I’ll be talking about that at Gallup’s Positive Psychology Summit this fall.

(posted by Richard)

9 Responses to “WSJ On Happiness, Money, and Commuting”

  1. Ryan Says:

    I don’t know that you can’t adapt to commuting. I found a way to enjoy my ~40 minute commute so much that I often look forward to getting in the car. I get books on CD from my local library and listen to them while I drive. With my mind thus occupied, I couldn’t care less if the traffic is moving 20MPH instead of 70MPH or if I have to sit through a light four times. Granted, I would prefer having the office closer to home, but at least I can prevent it from making me unhappy.

    I’m looking forward to your next book- I am always thinking about where I want to settle down. Quality of life and a prominent creative class are my top priorities. As of today, anyway.

  2. David Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Ryan. I am the opposite of you — I have XM, a cell phone, and own some books on cd, but the minute I sit in DC metro traffic, I feel like an animal trapped in a cage. I agree with the article – traffic is so unpredictable that I just have to prepare for the worst. Different strokes I guess! Thanks again for your input.

  3. Michael Bindner Says:


    I take the bus and train and work SU DOKU in the Express – and if the puzzle is easy the crossword puzzle. The only time I have to drive is when my wife is out of town and I have to take my little girl to day care. Of course, my favorite commute was when I was a stay at home Dad. It involved picking up said daughter or putting her down and working on my book.

    Something must change in our transportation system, particularly in this area. I think electric cars have to be part of the solution, with overhead power delivery and computer control (like commuter rail) to eliminate the range problem and burying the whole system to eliminate the eyesore and safety issues. See

    Speaking of linked items, did you see my comments on the Cato forum?

  4. Penelope Trunk Says:

    You cite Daniel Gilbert’s research about commuting here. He also found that people generally think they are the exception to the rule. So Harvard research labs like Gilbert’s come up with findings that basically no researcher is disputing — for example, that long commutes decrease one’s happiness level — and then people with long commutes think the research does not apply to them.

    In an interview I did with Gilbert, he told me that most football players they are above average, and most people think they are below average jugglers — both statistically improbable. And the same can be said of happy long commuters.

    Another thing Gilbert is fond of talking about is how people figure out how to make the best of what they have. Not a bad trait, but people who are talking about how they like their long commutes should consider these factors. I think long-commuters are not being honest with themselves.

  5. Wendy Says:

    Out of curiosity, I compared the angry cities list to a Census Bureau commute times list and there is no apparent correlation — at least between these two lists. We probably need a better measure of angry.

    See my blog (link via my name)

  6. John Doe Says:


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  8. vintage art Says:

    Good tips to stay happy. I hate to live in town. Thats why I moved to my hometown, where most of the people call it as retired town. The environment is slow and not that demanding. It does make me happy.

  9. poker Says:

    I agree on that thought that “money is not always the key to happiness”. But some people actually love longer commuter. It makes them think and listen to their music. It helps when someone actually love their work thus making them twice happier…