The commuters paradox

The commuters paradox

Jonah Lehrer explaining the commuters paradox as thus:

[W]hen people are choosing where to live, they consistently underestimate the pain of a long commute. This leads people to mistakenly believe that the big house in the exurbs will make them happier, even though it might force them to drive an additional hour to work. …. 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. As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

But instead of getting shorter, our commutes are getting longer; people aren’t considering the tradeoffs. Lehrer points out a similar paradox occurring when we go car shopping:

We tend to become fixated on quantifiable variables like horsepower (they’re so easy to compare), while discounting factors, such as the cost of maintenance or the comfort of the seats, that will play a much more significant role in our satisfaction with the car over time. I’m always surprised when people brag about variables like torque or the speed with which the car can rocket from 0-60 mph. Who cares? I’d much rather spend 30 minutes testing out the front seat.

I was driven to a talk I had to give yesterday in Philadelphia. The local resident who drove me noted he had just bought his car the week before. “And the seats heat up and cool down,” he reviewed as part of the tour as we drove the distance. Smart.