Happiness Tip of the Day: Ditch the Commute

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From Alex Tabarrok on homebuying:

One final point: behavioral economics tells us that we quickly get used to big houses but we never get used to commuting. So when you have a choice, go for the smaller house closer to work.

A thousand times yes. Obviously not everyone has this choice, and it’s not practical to move every time you get a new job. But yes, if you have the option, try to keep your commute under 20 minutes.

Want something more quantifiable? Here are two of “The Rules” from Joel Garreau’s Edge City, a dated but wonderful book about the building of suburbia:

The maximum desirable commute, throughout human history, regardless of transportation technology: 45 minutes.

Cevero’s law of the value of time wasted in traffic jams: People view the time they waste in a traffic jam as equal, in dollar value, to half their hourly wage. For example, if you make $50,000 per year, that’s $25 per hour. That means you’ll pay $3.12 each way per day to cut 15 minutes off your commute. That’s about $125 per month, which scales to about $30,000 in the price of a house.

That sounds low to me—in Southern California that’s a rounding error in the price of a home—but it’s at least a good starting point. If you can buy a house 15 minutes closer to work for $30,000 more, grab it. If it’s $50,000 more, behavioral economics says you should ignore your financial angst and grab it anyway. If it’s $100,000 more, you might need to think things through a little harder. Or, as Tabarrok suggests, settle for a small house near work at the same price as the bigger house in the burbs. You probably won’t regret it.

Anyway, from personal experience I can tell you that short commutes are great. And the greatest commute of all? A walk down the stairs each morning. That’s hard to beat.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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