by Denise Riebman
After my Scandinavian vacation last summer, I wrote a blog about how one of the Danish secrets to career happiness is biking to work. A few months later, I moved in with my boyfriend, which increased my 15-minute commute via bike into an hour-plus commute by car, metro, and walking—yet I’m happier than ever. How did this happen?
Focus on What You Can Control
While a very long commute by car does increase tension and decrease career happiness, I have chosen to minimize my stress by three simple shifts, regarding route, radio and parking. While it increases my commute slightly, I take a back road with pretty trees and calm roads, rather than the highway, with its rapidly merging cars and honking drivers. And instead of the news, I either listen to a podcast (“Hidden Brain” is one of my favorites as it plays to one of my top VIA Strengths, love of learning) or sing at the top of my lungs to cheesy pop tunes. Finally, although another metro station is slightly closer, I park at the one with the garage to minimize rain/snow/cold annoyance. And it has the added bonus of a newspaper man who greets every commuter with, “Have a good day on purpose!”
What micro-shifts can you make to increase control over your commute?
Focus on What Is Gained
Thanks to my 35-minute metro ride, I have reconnected to my mindfulness practice, doubled my reading time, and reduced work email overload. For me, three to five minutes is my sweet spot for meditation so, as soon as I get on the train, I put on my headphones and find a short meditation from Insight Timer. Then, I take about 15 minutes to read one of those positive psychology books that has been on my list for years. And those last five to 10 minutes I reserve for responding to work emails that don’t require a lot of thought but can bog down my inbox.
What have you overlooked by focusing on what was lost rather than gained from changes in your life?
Focus on What Is Around You
When I get off the train, the mad rush of people is overwhelming and, at first, I got very agitated getting caught up in the pushing swirl of self-importance that justified the mad dash to get on the escalator first. Now, I slow down and remind myself of the Buddhist quote “Be kind to everyone for everyone is fighting a battle.” And then, on my 15-minute walk to work, I try to keep my phone in my purse and turn my attention outward to really observe those around me.
What can shift inside you so you can take a more compassionate view of what’s around you?
Focus on What You Value
By the time I arrive at my office, I feel more present because of the intention I’ve brought to each aspect of my commute. Positive psychology has shown that humans adapt more easily than we expect to life’s circumstances, so by shifting my mindset to what I value (nature, mindfulness, learning, people), I’ve turned my initial disappointment over losing my bike commute into increased career happiness. And, most of all, after a long commute, coming home to a wonderful boyfriend who is always happy to see me, makes my life—and career—all the sweeter.
Denise Riebman is a career development specialist who applies a strength-based, positive psychology framework toward inspiring individuals to find career happiness. She is Director of Career Development and Alumni Services at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School, and founder of CareerHappinessCoaching.com. Denise holds a Certificate in Positive Psychology and additional certification from Global Career Development Facilitation, Presence-Based Coaching, and The Coaches Institute.
What a great article, Denise! I, too, have a long commute, but am usually gnashing my teeth at the 18 wheelers hogging the road! I’ll try to incorporate your advice to a add a bit more Zen to my day!
Thanks Denise, I needed this. I commute to NYC and the rush of people makes it challenging.