In his Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer points out that when they weight house cost and commuting time, people tend to overvalue extra features of the house and underestimate the misery of extra commuting. He cites one estimate that a person with an hour commute (I presume driving) has to earn 40 percent more money than someone who walks to work to be as satisfied with life.
That's because driving is a gigantic waste of time. No wonder people talk on the phone, text, and try to use their computers while driving. And they have plenty of time for it, if they buy a big house in the exurbs that is guaranteed to have nothing much anywhere near it.
The choice for me was obvious. I live in a small house close in to town rather than a larger house elsewhere, and have bicycled to various jobs over the past decade. We own one vehicle. I loathe commuting. But this choice is not obvious for most people. Maybe they don't like the small space: believe me, every time my growing children visit a Midwestern relative with a gigantic suburban house, I hear about it.
But commuting isn't only soul-sucking. It's expensive. You have to buy another car just for getting to work (think about how weird that really is), and then pay to maintain it. According to the the H+T Affordability Index some people are touting, my choice of location may even seem reasonably priced.
But when you fiddle the metrics to show that you're doing things the smart way after all, it starts to seem a bit more like a Smugness Index. You have to beware of that particular metric.
Now, someday I may need to get a job that requires an auto commute. I've certainly interviewed for them. What will I do if I have to take one?
Get a travel mug and become best friends with the reporters on NPR, I suspect. We do what we must. But my Smugness Index is going to go into the toilet.