Commuting, happiness, and incomplete statistics

Jonah Lehrer points out that the big house in the boonies isn’t worth it:

According to the calculations of Frey and Stutzer, a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. Another study, led by Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger, surveyed nine hundred working women in Texas and found that commuting was, by far, the least pleasurable part of their day.

I hear him; a significant part of my job search is in making sure the employers are reachable by mass transit. Driving a half hour each way was bad enough; the thought of spending 90 minutes per day on the road makes me wince.

Which makes me wonder if these studies made a distinction between commuting by car and taking the subway; I like to think that sitting on the Metro for two hours a day is less hellish than spending the same amount of time behind the wheel, but does that bear out in research? A Metro rider, for example, has considerably less responsibility than a driver, less risk of collision, and can spend that time reading, listening to music and possibly writing (if the train isn’t too crowded) rather than concentrating on the road. OTOH, the other commuters on Metro provide constant fodder for annoyance.

Then again, these studies were obviously not done on people like me. I will probably never be able to afford even a 3-bedroom apartment in the mid-suburbs, much less the same space in the middle of the nearby city or a 5-bedroom McMansion in the exurbs. Lehrer’s citations suggest that I’d be happier if I rented an apartment in the middle of the city and walked to work, and all things being equal, he’d probably be right, but have you seen the housing market in the District of Columbia? The most I can reasonably expect to afford is an efficiency the size of my ass in a neighborhood where I’d need to carry pepper spray and walk with a German Shepherd. A little one-bedroom cave here in the mid-suburbs is probably the best compromise I can make. Something tells me Ap Dijksterhuis chose test subjects from a much more affordable area.