The daily commute and the part perception plays

Since I’ve been working in an office again, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I have deliberately tried not to learn the train times, knowing that they run at least every 20 minutes during the day.

Over time though, I’ve got to know the times and, the other day, found myself rushing to get a train which, when it arrived, had half the usual number of carriages and was completely full. Some of the people on the platform were obviously very frustrated and I could see that this was going to have an impact on their whole day.

I found myself thinking “that was a bit of a waste of time” before noticing a man standing and looking the other way. I turned to see what he was looking at.

At first glance there was nothing significant, and then I noticed a beech hedge with its lovely changing colours and spent a few moments just looking and noticing all the detail. Then I saw the woods on the hill behind, a mixture of greys, ochre and copper, and the steely grey sky with birds flying across it.

Noticing this I tuned into my hearing and noticed a couple of birds having a morning chatter. These sights and sounds brought me to gratitude, for the time to stand and stare, for the nature always there to be found, for the pleasant temperature, for the reminder not to rush and for the choice to choose my reaction to the situation.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, describes how statistics show that an increase commuting time leads to a decrease in happiness, particularly if it involves long car journeys.

In Ian Sanders blog ( he describes how Nicholas Creswell takes a boat up the River Thames as part of his commute, even though it takes longer. Nick spends the time soaking up his surroundings; this conscious decision allowing him to manage how he feels when he turns up at work.

When we are in traffic, or on the train, our arrival time is dependent on circumstances outside of our control, which can lead to the negative effect referenced in The Happiness Hypothesis. The key for me in this is recognising the choices we have.

As I was stranded on the station that morning, I could have stressed about the impact on my “to do” list, but I chose to focus on the things that would allow me to arrive relaxed, refreshed, and more effective.

When I’m in traffic I can choose to be stressed about the clock ticking by, turn on the radio or an audio book, or perhaps best of all just notice how I’m feeling, maybe taking a moment to tune into my breath. I can’t control everything that happens to me, but I can choose how I respond.

Here’s wishing you many happy commutes!



written by

Ruth Steggles