Hate Your Commute? Try This Secret Weapon.

Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by those small but pesky Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “My commute.” I realize that my suggested resolution is very, perhaps oddly, specific.


Note the moon mosaic artwork by my daughter in the background.

Have you tried listening to audio-books? Do you enjoy them? I would never have expected to like them as much as I do. (Moment of self-promotion: here’s a clip of the audio-book of Happier at Home.)

And do you agree with the bonus resolution that I suggest? It’s funny to me how many people have raised this issue as a Pigeon of Discontent.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…

Are you always late? 7 tips to arrive on time.

Identify the problem. (This sounds so obvious, but it’s surprisingly hard to do, and extremely effective.)

Think about your routines–daily, weekly, yearly.

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I’ll make a special call for suggestions.

You can check out the archives of videos here. It’s crazy–my YouTube channel has passed the mark for one million viewers!


Happier at Home came out last week. Want to win a free copy? I’m giving away one book each day until publication.

Enter your name and email in the sign-up form here, and every day, a name will be picked at random. U.S.Canada, and U.K. only–sorry about that restriction on the give-away.

  • Let me just say that discovering audiobooks was amazing for me. I just go to the library, pick up a bunch of interesting books out of the non-fiction section, and put them in the car.

    I honestly now don’t really care that much about commuting or driving on long trips. And I’ve also found that I drive slower and am not in as much of a hurry. It’s a great way to preview books before you decide to buy them – the really goods one’s I find by listening I’ll go out and pick up to have for reference.

    Awesome tip!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that this is a strategy that really is useful. Commutes can be a real happiness challenge.

  • I love listening to audio books while I drive to work! I used to dislike my 40 minute drive to work and my 80 minute drive from work to graduate school but then I signed up for Audible and the drives fly by! Plus I was an avid reader to start, so now I have more time for reading plus a happier commute.

  • Leif Cid

    Bad link : read the Behind-the-Scenes extra (I had a great time writing this)
    It leads to your email, I dont think that link its suppose to ppint there !! Thanks

    • gretchenrubin

      I meant to link to email – you can just email me to request it. I hope you enjoy it!

  • Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF

    For me, it wasn’t audiobooks but podcasts of This American Life. My commute for a bit was an hour and 15 minutes. I listened to one episode of This American Life each way, and it revolutionized my life. I started to look forward to the commute, and suddenly every conversation was “Well, I heard this thing on This American Life….” I know there are other podcasts (Radio Lab, The Sports Guy) that are great, but I feel like TAL is the perfect amount of storytelling, human interest, humor, education etc. It’s amazing how your least favorite part of your day can become your favorite part with this one small thing!

    • gretchenrubin

      A great suggestion. So much fantastic material available by podcast now.

    • Amy

      Yes! I listen to This American Life and Radio Lab over podcast while I’m at work. Absolutely love them.

    • Nicole

      Yes! I AGREE!

  • I’m almost wishing I had a commute so I could have time to listen to audio books or podcasts. I haven’t tried an audio book yet, but would like to.

  • Joanna

    I used to hate my 90-minute round-trip bus commute so much that it made me pretty glum throughout the workweek. I started riding my bike to and from work last December, and it’s honestly changed my life. I was just thinking while riding this morning that my commute is now one of my favorite parts of the day. I realize that this isn’t necessarily feasible for those with longer (20+ mile) commutes, but when I move for school next year and take on a 30-mile commute, I plan to drive for the first 20 and bike the last 10, because I can’t bear the thought of losing my beloved bicycle time! Just a thought for those who might have the possibility of switching up their method of commuting 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      A great suggestion. So terrific to hear about something dreaded turn into a pleasure.

    • Nicole

      Wish my city was “bike friendly.”

  • RBO

    So pleased to hear you mention The Great Lectures series, as my family can attest to their being most enjoyable. In fact, the moment I saw the title of today’s Pigeon of Discontent, I knew I’d have to offer them as a way to turn a “drive of drudgery” into enriching and entertaining time. The topics run the full spectrum, from history, art, and science to health, business and life skills — even wine tasting, The Teaching Company, which produces the tapes, runs different specials every day, so one can usually get a set of 24 to 36 lectures (the equivalent of a semester course) for about $70. Last year, my husband was having to commute 2.5 hours each way to his elderly parents’ house a couple of times a week, but anticipation of the drive always put him in a great mood, because he so looked forward to listening to his Great Courses cds. Best for a commute of 30 minutes or more, I would think. If you have a treadmill or stairmaster at home, these courses also help to pass the time there, and they’re available in either cd or DVD format.

  • Amy

    Audiobooks have made my life so much happier!! I have a 45 minute commute, and used to dread it. Now that I always have a good book to listen to, I am excited to drive! The Hunger Games was particularly fun to listen to. I use Audible.com, which often has reasonably priced trial offers, but my public library also has audiobook rentals (cd and mp3 format).

  • s_ifat

    no commute in my day (thank god) but, i LOVE audiobooks. I wouldnt be able to take one step of my daily one hour walk without my audiobooks. in one hour, i listen to a second language (english) and enjoy a great book and do my workout 🙂 already listened to happier at home once, just started my second listen.

  • Katie

    By the way, a newly realized pigeon of discontent of mine is that I always read into what people say rather than just taking them at their word. I’ve realized that this tends to cause irritation amongst my relationships (through unnecessarily explaining a request or nagging) and anxiety for me.

    • Leslie Rieger

      I think I have that problem, too.

  • This spoke volumes to me, both the commute and the turn signal! I used to have days with 3 hours or more of drive time, and I lived by my podcasts, and a few audio books. I recommend to those readers who aren’t into audio books–try podcasts! My favorites were Science Friday, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, The Dave Ramsey Show (keeping me from getting back into debt), and various EPL podcasts. Find something you love to learn about, I guarantee there is a podcast.

  • peninith1

    I guess I would NOT recommend this, and yet . . . Years ago, I had about a half hour commute on the DC Beltway. This was at a less-than-wonderful period of my life. I used to use that morning commute to be by myself and discuss my unhappiness with the Almighty–not enough to become crazy or distracted, but enough to really have my emotions. Sometimes I cried a bit as I drove. But when I got to the parking lot at the office, I had to quit it and get on with my day. That was how I learned to set boundaries around time for any worrying, grieving, fretting or ruminating. I didn’t do the same thing on the way home, because I was frankly caught up in the events of the work day. As I said, it’s not something I would recommend, yet it turned out to be very helpful to me. Later I moved to a smaller city, with a three-mile, 10 – minute commute. Now, I’ve retired, and life is generally much, MUCH happier. (-:

  • Lynn

    I love audio books, podcasts of This American life, and I would recommend, podcasts of the moth radio hour. These are brief, fifteen minutes or so, true stories, based around a theme. Hope you can check out their website. Also on iTunes for free 🙂

  • Guest

    My copy of ‘Happier at Home’ came yesterday and just its long awaited arrival made me HaPpieR! While I waited over the weekend for my Amazon pre-order to arrive, I reread ‘The Happiness Project’ and was reminded of some HaPpY things! I was even motivated to start my own “Commandments” list page in my iPhone notes app. Thank You, Gretchen! YOU are one of MY patron saints!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy it —

  • Nicole

    My copy of ‘Happier at Home’ came yesterday, and just its long awaited arrival made me HaPpieR! While I waited over the weekend for my Amazon pre-order to arrive, I reread ‘The Happiness Project’ and was reminded of some HaPpY things! I was even motivated to start my own “Commandments” list page in my iPhone notes app. Thank You, Gretchen! YOU are one of MY patron saints!

  • Carla

    I actually enjoy my short (20-25 minutes) commute as it provides time for me to ease into a different part of my day. I’m slow to wake up in the morning, and I tend to get up at the last possible moment. I rush around getting ready, but once I’m in the car, I can just relax and think about nothing in particular. On my way home, I’m usually still consumed with thoughts about work, so I can take the time to slowly ease out of “work” mode. I had really expected to dread my commute, and I’ve been surprised how much I actually appreciate it.

    I love audiobooks – if I have read the book before. I am definitely more of a visual learner, and I have trouble focusing on an audiobook. If I am reading a physical book and get distracted, I can just reread the last paragraph. If I get distracted while listening to an audiobook, then I have to try to rewind so I know what just happened. When I have read the book before, I already have a general idea of what happened so I don’t worry so much about strictly focusing on the book. So if you are someone who never particularly enjoyed audiobooks, try listening to a book you have read before.

    My husband, on the other hand, is very much an auditory learner. He was not much of a reader because he read so slowly that he found it rather unpleasant. I suggested he try listening to the audiobook of a novel he was supposed to read for class, and there has been no going back. He now reads more than me because he listens to audiobooks constantly.

    I think our learning styles have more of an impact on our daily lives and preferences than we realize.

  • I really enjoy audiobooks. It also helps pass the time while cleaning, doing the dishes, preparing dinner, etc.

  • Elizabeth Miles

    I totally agree! Discovering audio books was a revelation when a longer commute for a new job was making me miserable. I rotate novels with non-fiction and actually get sad on the weekends when I’m in the car less. Monday morning means I get to find out what happens next!

  • I.R.

    I love audiobooks too. I don’t have to commute right now, but they help me through many a boring hour cleaning my place… 😉 I get my audiobooks for free from librivox.org – they have all the “must read” classics I never read before and many other great books nobody else would make into an audiobook (Einstein’s Relativity anyone?)

  • Guest

    I actually love my commute. It’s only 15 minutes (I think it would actually drive me nuts to only listen to an audiobook for 15 minutes at a time – but I’m not really a big fan of audiobooks either – my mind wanders too much), but driving is one of the places I get my best ideas and work through stuff. Even better are the days I commute by bike – that takes 20-25 minutes, but it’s mostly along a river bike path that is just gorgeous. Sometimes I see critters – I saw a raccoon on Monday and I usually arrive at work all happy and full of nature appreciation.

  • Ruth

    Depending on when I leave the house in the morning, my commute can range from 35 minutes to 2 hours. AUDIOBOOKS SAVED MY SANITY! When I get stuck in traffic, I don’t get upset, I say, “Oh, goody, I get to listen to my book longer!” I listen to all kinds of books – children’s literature, YA literature, fiction, non-fiction, biographies, classics, you name it.

    And I always use my turn signal – LOL!

  • Mara

    I have a 45 to one hour commute each way, and I 100% agree about audio books! Although there is still the stress of getting to daycare on time, when I have a good audio book, things are so much better. I have checked out all my audio books so far from the library. I also listen to this American life podcast. I have their app, and it allows me to listen to all of their archives so easily. Ira Glass can perk up anyone’s day 🙂

  • Mara

    I forgot to add – I check out the library audio books online – super easy!