Achieving Happiness: Despite a Long Commute

Achieving happiness starts with your attitude.

You can be angry, frustrated, and grouchy and still get a lot done, but your lousy mood diminishes those accomplishments.

The best way to move confidently towards your goals, and get farther and farther each day, is to be happy, regardless of your circumstances.

What is the one attitude killer most of us face before the day starts?

Our drive to work.

How often has your day been ruined before it begins by a horrible commute?

Did it make you feel out of control and stuck, with nowhere to go…stewing?

I bet that didn’t make for the most productive workday and definitely not the most enjoyable.

How could it?

You started in a happiness hole.

But you can practice some easy techniques daily to make your commute much less tense or keep it from spoiling the other 23 hours of your day.

The power of preparation

Prepare yourself for your upcoming ride.

Before you get in the car to drive to work or school or wherever stop for ten seconds and prepare yourself for traffic.

Say, “I have no control over how long it will take me to get where I’m going, so I’m not going to get upset about it.”

If you tell yourself this every morning, you’ll soon discover how easy it is to stay calm and enjoy the ride.

Even when it’s really slow.

Make the interior of your car a calming oasis

The sounds you listen to on any long drive can affect your mood.

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You may love that talk radio station that agrees with all your political views, but how often does their content make you furious?

Do you arrive at work angry because of what you heard on the news?

Unless your place of work has Secret Service agents outside the door, chances are you won’t be able to change anything about the story you heard.

Getting angry at the start of the day is not conducive to your happiness.

Save that for the ride home.

The same goes for listening to a morning show with long commercial breaks that annoy you.

Find the content that gives you the most pleasure – a music CD, a podcast, or an audiobook – and make sure that’s in your car.

There are podcasts for every taste, and most are free to download to your phone, so do a little research and find the one or two, or ten that are right for you.

Make your ride into “me time,” a chance to indulge in pleasant entertainment you otherwise wouldn’t have room for in your day.

Be present to achieve happiness

Love your landmarks.

Have you noticed your route?

Really noticed it?

What’s at the halfway point?

What spot generally means you’re five minutes away from work?

Is there a car dealership along the way that has goofy blowups?

Is there a billboard with a grammar error that makes you cringe?

Find the regular landmarks along your route and use them to mark your distance and make you smile.

Okay, don’t plow into the back of the car in front of you while sightseeing, but starting tomorrow, really pay attention to the view.

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There’s a lot more to look at and appreciate than you had realized, and if you think of your commute as going to a museum for an hour each day (or a zoo!), you can have a lot of fun with it.

Be stimulated by color

Right now, think of your absolute happiest memory.

Flashback to a moment of your life of unbridled joy.

Now, what color comes to mind with that memory?

Is it your wife’s white dress?

The pink flowers you planted in the first place you lived alone?

The green door of your high school?

The blue jerseys your team wore when they won the national championship?

Imprint your happiest memory with a color.

Got your color?

Look around during your commute and notice how many places you see that color.

Everywhere you see it, let it remind you of that happy memory.

Relive the joy, and be glad this time in your car allowed you to do so.

If this effect wears off, create a different memory each week.

Cycle through a few of them.

Make your commute a time to reflect on how happy you’ve been, you are, and you will be again.

Be kind

In the book Happiness as a Second Language, I offer techniques for quickly getting over a bad day, including complimenting a total stranger.

Buy the guy behind you a cup of coffee.

Do something completely outside yourself and reward yourself by dropping the bad mood.

The same can be true of your commute.

Do you see someone desperately trying to change lanes?

Let that person in.

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Then, smile at yourself for being a good person.

You can achieve happiness by bringing joy to others.

When I lived in Oakland and worked in San Francisco (perhaps one of the worst commutes on the planet), I decided to pay the Bay Bridge toll for the car behind me once a week.

Those were some of the best days of my week.

In fact, if I knew I would have a crummy day at work, I would make sure I covered the car behind me on the way.

That way, at least one awesome thing was guaranteed to happen that day.

Achieve happiness despite setbacks and your morning commute

If you’re stuck in traffic, getting angry about it will not change your circumstances.

In fact, it’s only likely to make your bad day worse, so relax, stay calm, flashback to a happy memory, and find signposts on your way that amuse you or remind you of things you love.

Enjoy this time to think about how awesome your life is.

For more tips and insights on learning Happiness as a Second Language, check out and join the conversation.

Until next time…stay empowered, and stay happy!

“Always focus on the front windshield and not the rear view mirror.” –Colin Powell

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