When it comes to boosting happiness, it’s important to consider both really big things — meaningful work and supportive relationships — and really little things, like 10 minutes of meditation in the midst of a hectic schedule or small acts of generosity. Now there’s another little thing to add to the list: Living within walking distance of your workplace can make you happier.
A story in Fast Company recently showcased a Palo Alto company called Imo, which offers employees $500 a month towards housing within a five-mile radius of the office. Writer David Zax reports all but one or two of their roughly 20 employees have taken Imo up on the offer. He outlines the benefits: the time you’d lose commuting can be spent doing things that make you happy, like spending more time with friends and family, going home and walking your dog or tending to errands during your lunch break. And, when everyone lives in roughly the same neighbourhood, you create community bonds.
I might not seem like the best person to comment on this as my current commute is about 10 seconds (from bed to dining room table is about two minutes if I factor in the always-necessary swing by the coffee maker) but several years ago, when I had an office job, I woke up every morning and had a choice: a 45-minute walk to work or a 20-minute commute on rush hour public transportation. While I’m a big supporter of public transit, I found that opting for the shorter commute was usually the wrong choice. After cramming myself into a subway car, then lining up for the streetcar that never comes, I would arrive at work frustrated and on edge — not the ideal way to start a busy workday. But when I walked to work, giant coffee in hand, especially during the nicer months, I arrived feeling calm and ready — even if I did have to wake up 20 minutes earlier. Plus, if I added in another walk home, I was suddenly getting the exercise I needed and I found that I felt lighter on my feet, had more energy and slept better.
Of course, when companies offer special perks, it’s not always entirely altruistic — living closer to the office might encourage you to work longer hours since you’re not concerned about a lengthy commute. And it certainly makes it easier to pop by the office on a Saturday. But it does appear that there are some serious lifestyle benefits to living within walking distance from work, including regular exercise and fresh air, meditative time by yourself or time to catch up with a podcast or walking buddy, less time in the car or on the subway and more time to do the things you love. All of these things things can reduce stress and make employees more productive — which, in the end, should make everyone a little happier.