Maybe you saw the recent, disheartening news that New Yorkers have longer work weeks than residents of any other major U.S. city. One of the main reasons the New York City work week is so long, according to the new report by city comptroller Scott M. Stringer, is that commuting takesfor-freaking-ever. Each week, an average New Yorker spends six hours and 18 minutes commuting, well above the national average of four hours and 11 minutes.
With this in mind, Science of Us took a dive into the scientific literature on commuting. Here are the best facts we found on the daily routine, and the variety of ways it’s sucking the soul right out of you. (The short version is: Commuting is mostly terrible and you should probably work from home if you can.)
The worst thing you’ll do all day is your morning commute.Social scientists Daniel Kahneman and Alan B. Krueger surveyed about 900 women in Texas, asking which of their daily activities made them happiest. At the very bottom of the list — worse than working or cleaning house — was the morning commute. (The evening commute, incidentally, is the third worst thing you’ll do all day, according to this sample.)
You’ll never get used to it. It’s awful every day, but each day carries its own particular awfulness. “You can’t adapt to commuting, because it’s entirely unpredictable,” Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilberthas said. “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
But you’ll be happiest if you walk, bike, or take the train. People who commute in these three ways are more satisfied with their commutes than people who drive, take the bus, or take the subway, according to a McGill University survey of 3,377 commuters in Montreal.
A longer commute might even ruin your marriage. A decade-longstudy of 2 million married people in Sweden found that couples with long commutes — defined here as 45 minutes, by car — were 40 percent more likely to divorce than couples who never commuted. (Hat tip to our pals at Science of Relationships for covering that one.)
But, weirdly, your relationship might be happier if you commute in the same direction. A study of 280 married couples in the U.S. and 139 in Hong Kong found that the couples who headed to work in the same direction tended to be more satisfied in their relationships. It’s perhaps one of those small, meaningless similarities that people may unconsciously value for no logical reason (like sharing a birthday), the researchers theorized.
Time spent commuting is time spent not exercising. Also: not cooking and not sleeping. According to an analysis of data culled from five years of the American Time Use Survey, “Each minute spent commuting is associated with a 0.0257 minute exercise time reduction, a 0.0387 minute food preparation time reduction, and a 0.2205 minute sleep time reduction.” And when people with long commutes do exercise, they tend to do so at lower intensity than people with shorter commutes. Who has the energy for intervals after fighting your way on and off the train?
A lengthy commute might make people less politically active.Researchers used data from a Georgetown University survey of 1,001 Americans, with questions that covered a wide variety of topics, including work, commute length, and political participation (defined as voting and donating money to a political organization or group, among other things). And they found that the more time people spent commuting, the less likely they were to be politically active. Compared to someone who works from home, a person with an hour-long commute is 12 percent less likely to participate in politics, according to their findings.
How telecommuters have it made, by the numbers. Whencompared to “extreme commuters” — those whose total daily commute time exceeds three hours, people who work from home sleep 44.7 minutes more and spend 63 percent more time exercising. (The average commute — 50 minutes — doesn’t have quite so dire an impact, resulting in only 11.03 minutes of lost sleep and just 1.29 minutes of lost exercise relative to telecommuters.)
Money helps matters, though. A relatively famous study suggested that, all else being equal, for a person with an hour-long commute to be as happy as a telecommuter, the commuter’s salary would have to be 40 percent higher than their work-from-home buddy’s.
There is another way to make a commute happier, but it is terrifying. When University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley asked suburban Chicago commuters to chat with strangers on the train, he found that they ended up enjoying the ride that day more than they usually did. (However, I tried this last summer and cannot in good conscience recommend it.)
There is at least one good thing about commuting. For some people, report researchers at the University of California Transportation Center, the ride home is a time to decompress, let go of work stress, and make the transition back to home life.
Social media damaging our work-life balance – that was the subject of the talk I gave to the British Psychological Society in Liverpool a few weeks ago. My topic was “mental capital and wellbeing at work”: the need for people to have control or autonomy in the job; to be managed by praise and reward rather than fault-finding; to have manageable workloads and achievable deadlines; and, most importantly, to have some balance in their lives.
I highlighted research that showed that consistently working long hours was having a damaging effect on the health of workers, their family life and their productivity. I mentioned that the work-life balance of most people was made worse by emails, by the unending electronic overload experienced by many of us, day in, day out. Smartphones and tablets mean that people who access their emails in the evening and on holidays – when families should be spending time together without work interference – were potentially damaging their health and productivity. And although my comments on emails represented only a few minutes of my one-hour presentation, the audience overwhelmingly picked up on the issue, and so did the press.
Email and social media have served a very important purpose in the workplace, and have been an enabler in communications and virtual work relationships. The downsides, however, now outweigh the benefits, and these include: unmanageable workloads (when faced with an excessive email inbox), the loss of face-to-face relationships with colleagues; and the misuse of emails to avoid having face-to-face discussions about difficult work-related issues. As Einstein once wrote: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, the world will then have a generation of idiots.”
The adverse consequences extend beyond the workplace and into employees’ homes, as communication technologies encourage people to access their work well into the evenings and holidays. This can have a hugely negative impact on quality of life. How often have we seen families out for dinner where parents (and children) are looking at their mobiles for text messages or emails rather than listening to one another? How often have working parents come home to access emails on their smartphones at dinner or when the family is spending time together? Can this lack of communication within the family create problems that have a negative spillover effect into the workplace?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating dumping emails or texting, but suggesting that we all must begin to manage this technology, rather than let it manage us. Employers should be encouraging their employees, as some are currently doing, to avoid accessing emails at night or during their holidays, unless absolutely necessary. They should provide guidelines to employees on how to minimise overload on others (for example, cc-ing only if others are directly involved in the issue); avoiding sending emails to colleagues in the same building – thereby encouraging face-to-face interactions; and ensuring that anybody sending an email should let the receiver know how important their response is, and by when their response is required.
Some firms – whose employees are not listening and are continuing to overload themselves and others – are shutting down the servers at night. I don’t advocate this, but a strong message has to be given if our businesses are to be more healthy and more productive. As John Ruskin, the social reformer, wrote in 1851: “In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.”
One of the most powerful forms of influence, according to psychologist Robert Cialdini’s famous analysis, is authority — often derived from perceived expertise. When a doctor advises us to exercise more, or a Nobel Laureate raises questions about a certain economic policy, we’re likely to pay much more attention than if a random person offered the same counsel. In our professional lives, this principle can be a boon: if you have a Ph.D. in a subject, or have worked in the industry for 20 years, or are seen to be an expert because you write for a certain publication, you have an increased ability to influence others.
But what if you don’t have those credentials? As I describe in my new book Stand Out, when you’re just starting out in a field, or lack blue-chip affiliations, it may be hard to persuade others to listen to your ideas, if they’re groundbreaking and valuable. Here are four strategies to help you overcome your perceived lack of expertise and ensure you can make an impact.
The first step, if you aren’t yet seen as an expert in your own right, is to borrow others’ expertise. If you’re a thoughtful curator of the best ideas in your field, even if you’re not developing them yourself, others will start turning to you for guidance. “Originality can be overrated,” says Des Dearlove, co-founder of Thinkers50. He cited Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman (of Emotional Intelligence fame) as examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”
Another strategy to gain more influence for your ideas is finding commonality with your audience, a technique that makes them far more receptive to hearing from you. In Stand Out, I profileRobbie Kellman Baxter, a consultant who earned her MBA from Stanford and, as an active alumni volunteer, now derives more than half of her business from her fellow graduates. “The reason it’s good for your business is that you’re able to form genuine relationships with like-minded people very quickly, and to me, that’s the definition of good networking,” she says. “There’s a kind of trust: I know what you went through because I went through it, too.”
It’s also important to be strategic about how and where you’re applying your persuasion techniques. In my previous career as a presidential campaign spokesperson, we frequently createdpowermaps, which identified who the relevant decision maker was on an issue, who she listened to for advice, and how close we were to those advisers. The goal was to create an “echo chamber” effect, in which – even if we couldn’t reach the target directly – we could ensure she would hear about our position favorably from a variety of sources. Powermapping is a highly targeted form of influence that can enable you to bypass objections about your own level of expertise on the subject.
Finally, the best antidote if you’re lacking an expert reputation now is to start creating one ASAP. Creating original content is the single most effective way to develop an expert reputation. Though the best channel will vary (photographers and chefs should double down on Instagram, while it’s less helpful for attorneys and insurance brokers), blogging is a good bet for most professionals. In just an hour or two a week, you can begin to demonstrate how you think about the issues facing your field and sharing your unique point of view. Your content creation sparks a virtuous circle: because reporters looking for comment almost always start their articles with an online search, if your name keeps coming up as someone writing about the issues, they’re likely to contact you, reinforcing your expert reputation with third-party validation.
If you’re not yet considered an expert, it’s harder to get your ideas noticed — but not impossible. With these strategies, you can begin to overcome others’ resistance and make sure your voice is heard.
Here’s how to master the art of conversation—both sides of it:
When it’s your turn to talk…
1. Get your thinking straight. The most common source of confusing messages is muddled thinking. We have an idea we haven’t thought through. Or we have so much we want to say that we can’t possibly say it. Or we have an opinion that is so strong we can’t michael kors outlet uk keep it in. As a result, we are ill-prepared when we speak, and we confuse everyone. The first rule of plain talk, then, is to think before you say anything. Organize your thoughts.
2. Say what you mean. Say exactly what you mean.
3. Get to the point. don’t beat around the bush. If you want something, ask for it. If you want someone to do something, say exactly what you want done.
4. Be concise. Don’t waste words. Confusion grows in direct proportion to the number of words used. Speak plainly and briefly, using the shortest, most familiar words.
5. Be real. Each of us has a personality—a blending of traits, thought patterns and mannerisms—which can aid us in communicating clearly. For maximum clarity, be natural and let the real you come through. You’ll be more convincing and much more comfortable.
6. Speak in images. The cliché that “a picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t always true. But words that help people visualize concepts can be tremendous aids in communicating a message.
But talking, or sending messages, is only half the process. To be a truly accomplished communicator, you must also know how to listen, or receive messages.
If you’re approaching a railroad crossing around a blind curve, you can send a message with your car horn. But that’s not the most important part of your communication task. The communication that counts takes place when you stop, look and listen—a useful admonition for conversation, too.
So, when it’s your turn to listen…
1. Do it with thought and care. Listening, like speaking and writing, requires genuine interest and attention. If you don’t, you won’t learn much, and you won’t remember much of what you do learn. Most of us retain only 25 percent of what we hear—so if you can increase your retention and your comprehension, you can increase your effectiveness.
A sign on the wall of Lyndon Johnson’s Senate office put it in a down-to-earth way: “When you’re talking, you ain’t learning.”
2. Use your eyes. If you listen only with your ears, you’re missing out on much of the message. Good listeners keep their eyes open while listening. Look for feelings. The face is an eloquent communication medium—learn to read its messages. While the speaker is delivering a verbal message, the face can be saying, “I’m serious,” “Just kidding,” “It pains me to be telling you this,” or “This gives me great pleasure.”
3. Observe these nonverbal signals when listening to people:
• Rubbing one eye. When you hear “I guess you’re right,” and the speaker is rubbing one eye, guess again. Rubbing one eye often is a signal that the speaker is having trouble inwardly accepting something.
• Tapping feet. When a statement is accompanied by foot-tapping, it usually indicates a lack of confidence in what is being said.
• Rubbing fingers. When you see the thumb and forefinger rubbing together, it often means that the speaker is holding something back.
• Staring and blinking. When you see the other person staring at the ceiling and blinking rapidly, the topic at hand is under consideration.
• Crooked smiles. Most genuine smiles are symmetrical. And most facial expressions are fleeting. If a smile is noticeably crooked, you’re probably looking at a fake one.
• Eyes that avoid contact. Poor eye contact can be a, but it can also indicate that the speaker is not being truthful.
It would be unwise to make a decision based solely on these visible signals. But they can give you valuable tips on the kind of questions to ask and the kind of answers to be alert for.
4. Make things easy. People who are poor listeners will find few who are willing to come to them with useful information. Good listeners make it easy on those to whom they want to listen. They make it clear that they’re interested in what the other person has to say.
Does anyone else feel that when an opportunity presents itself, you’d be a fool not to take it? That it would be a “resume booster” and an experience that could be beneficial to your overall self rather than detrimental?
Lately, opportunities have been coming at us at every angle (you might argue that’s such a great thing!)–a part-time job here, graduate school student over there, oh wait, there’s another part-time job over here too selling cricket protein bars, another opportunity to be apart of a huge app launch, a facilitator at TEDxNewYorkSalon, a summer full-time position at a major banking company, and who knows what tomorrow will bring–but it’s when we were sitting in Washington Square Park that we realized we are all over the darn map!
For some reason, we thought of “Where’s Waldo.”
Maybe it’s because the nature of Washington Square Park on a sunny-80-degrees day is reminiscent of those old school Waldo games we played as a kid…hundreds of people, activities all around, objects, trumpet players, street performers, trees, even some brave souls taking a dip inside the fountain, yet ONE Waldo. It got us thinking…
When we are not focused and disciplined on doing one thing at a time like solely concentrating on finding Waldo, we don’t have our “eye on the prize” and are blinded at seeing what we really need to see. This leads to distractions, to confusions, and to overwhelming feelings–all of which we’ve been going through these past few months.
Things are just not going the way we want them to go. We’re not where we want to be. In fact, we are so frustrated thinking about ways to grow Renaissance Swag that we are looking at every opportunity that comes our way as the ah-ha! opportunity that gets us off the ground. We’re unfocused. But the Universe has a funny way of working, you just have to be open enough to see it. You have to follow the signs and listen to your intuition.
So there we were, sitting on a bench (one of our favorite places to be), overlooking the fountain and arch, listening to this young lad play the guitar to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and two people approach us, with a sign in hand saying “Made with Love” and a container filled with some baked goods.
“Do you have a minute,” they asked. We looked at each other, sighed a small sigh thinking, “How do we always get suckered into these raffle/fundraisers(!),” but we said, “Yeah, whatya got…” Well, let’s just say, twenty minutes later, we looked at each other again after they had walked away, this time with a smile on our face, thinking we just got “God winked,” as we like to call it or you could even say, “Waldoed.”
Their story about traveling the world for 8-months from places like Croatia, Norway, Sweden Egypt, and Italy to find homemade recipes “Made with Love” of all cultures was so inspirational, let alone mouth watering! You could see the love in their personality and the passion in their voice, so much that we recognized we had lost a bit of that sparkle ourselves. Comparing ourselves to others and trying to echo the top players in the blogging world are certainly big reasons why we feel our sparkle is fading. So it was refreshing to listen to both Leila and Anthony tell us their stories.
So here’s the scoop, for awhile now, we’ve had a vision to create a band of women looking to all sectors of thought, career, relationship status, age, wellness, culture, entrepreneurship and creating a story of Renaissance Women with 21st Century Swag – women that blend the old with the new.
This is not about pushing women to hold masculine roles contradicting their feminine inclinations, but rather, on the contrary, this is getting women to come back to their roots. We started contacting women to interview, but haven’t officially executed, letting those doubts seep in like:
“Who’s going to want to read this anyway?”
“So many other people are doing similar things? What makes us different”
“Will we be providing value?”
But then, a “God-wink.” Leila, the Co-Founder of “Made with Love,” said something that for anyone else wouldn’t mean a thing, but for us was a cue to follow what our hearts have been telling us all along…”you should interview my sister, she’s a badass woman, totally Renaissance Swag.”
ARE YOU KIDDING, ME?!?! Thank you, UNIVERSE!
You might say that was a coincidence. But for us, that was exactly the sign we needed. One simple word. One short encounter. And we are feeling more focused and driven than ever. We knew it all along, but forgot about it along the way.
The message we are getting across is this: when you focus your energy and discipline yourself to seeing the right opportunity that is in alignment with yourself then you will keep seeing the path you need to take, you will keep finding Waldo.
The real problem of life is resistance. Resistance, as Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art, is “a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
So by going on a spiritual path of nonresistance we are in essence, following the signs, the cues, the God-winks, and the Waldos. It is our ego that wants to tell us these signs are not what we are supposed to be doing. It is the ego that fills your mind with all those doubts and fears. But it is the self that knows what is right for your greater good. Don’t resist the signs. Follow them. You’ll get closer and closer to fulfilling your purpose.
How many times have we heard that? Yet, how many times do we actually listen to it? Your intuition is there for you to help you in places of danger, telling you something doesn’t feel right. So too is it there for you when resistance comes knocking on your door. Resistance is louder than your intuition, but it can become weaker when we defy it and we start to listen. Listen to that little voice within, that gut response, that energetic pull. Intuition will always be there pointing you in the right direction, we just have to silence the honking that’s happening all around us and focus in on the whisper of intuition.
With focus and concentration,
Mary Garhart fell in love with reading in middle school, devouring Christopher Paolini’s fantasy novel “Eragon” and the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Then she moved to classics from Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities,” and Charlotte Brontë, “Jane Eyre.” She had a yen for writing. What’s more, there were literary influences in her family: a grandmother with a master’s degree in English, a grandfather who taught English.
So when Garhart entered the University of Maryland in fall 2011, she had no doubt about her field of study. “English,” she said, “is the obvious major.”
This has been true for generations of college students drawn to the poetry, drama, novels and other works of a language that has become a global medium since its origins centuries ago in the British Isles.
But for many, English is not so obvious anymore.
Like several disciplines in the humanities, English has faced hard questions in recent years. The Great Recession of 2008-09 led a growing number of students, urged by parents who want a “return” on their tuition investment, to pick majors they perceived as more likely to enhance their career prospects. This preoccupation with an economic rationale for going to college had been building for many years. But the economic downturn and its aftermath compounded job worries.
Numbers from College Park, home of the flagship public university of Maryland, tell a story that echoes in one way or another at schools across the country.
In fall 2009, there were 792 English majors among U-Md. undergraduates. That was nearly equal the total of computer science majors, 796. Five years later the computer science total had more than doubled, to 1,730. The total for English had fallen 39 percent, to 483.
English was hardly alone in decline. Down at least a quarter in that span were major totals for anthropology, art history, general biology and history.
At the University of Virginia, the English major count fell 18 percent from 2009 to 2013. History was down 31 percent; philosophy, 40 percent. Computer science was up 108 percent.
Nationwide about 50,000 students a year earn bachelor’s degrees in English, a total little changed in this century even as the number of degrees conferred in all subjects has risen nearly 50 percent. Students these days choose from an ever-expanding academic menu, with specialized majors in business, health, engineering, security, technology and other fields.
Fluctuations in demand are common. One topic might get hot as another cools. Arabic studies, introduced at College Park in 2008, has developed a solid niche. Interest in American studies has slid. The journalism major with a “multiplatform” focus has taken off as more consumers rely on digital news sources. The journalism major focused on magazines is being phased out.
Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at U-Md. since 2011, said there are often “ebbs and flows” in majors. But she acknowledged that her college, home to English, history and other core departments, must ramp up recruiting. Dill said she wants to “bust the myths” students might hold about the value of English and certain other majors in the job market.
“The approaches that we use in teaching the humanities and the arts … do give students the skills that employers are looking for,” Dill said. “And they also give students skills that are transferable to a lot of different kinds of work settings and situations.” Employers, she said, “need people who have broader capabilities to be creative and thoughtful.”
Across the country, humanities majors are under siege as politicians have questioned their economic value.
In January 2014, President Obama talked up the virtues of manufacturing at the expense of art history. “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” he said. “Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history.” (Obama later apologized for the remark.)
Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a possible Republican presidential candidate, lamented in a speech that many students take on debt to obtain degrees that won’t lead to a job. “So you can decide whether it’s worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major,” Rubio said. “Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.”
There is much debate about the value of different degrees. It takes some graduates a while to reach their full earning potential. Others pursue lower-paying careers in public service that offer intangible benefits. There are powerful (and countless) arguments for why learning is valuable for its own sake. But many students and parents measure value in salaries.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, analyzing 2013 census data, found that college graduates ages 25 to 59 earned a median annual wage of $61,000. English majors earned a median annual wage of $53,000. Computer science majors earned $83,000.
The English department at College Park, recognizing that it must market itself, relies on an economic pitch. A leaflet in its office — “So, you’re thinking about majoring in English?” — tells prospective students: “Some of our English majors go on to teach, but many others become editors, writers, lawyers, businesswomen or researchers. Some English majors even become doctors!”
Garhart, 21, a senior from Anne Arundel County, wants to explore book publishing. An English major from the start, she also is minoring in creative writing. To boost her career options, she decided to pursue a second major in business management. After a nerve-racking process that included taking prerequisite classes in accounting, economics and statistics; gathering recommendations; and applying to the university’s Smith School of Business, she got in. She will need five years to finish her studies . Tuition and fees for Maryland residents, not counting books, room and board, total more than $9,500 a year.
Does she enjoy business classes as much as she does the Novel in America to 1914? Or Literature of London, which she took one spring?
“I don’t think I’ll ever love any other course as much as English,” Garhart said.
English professors are also keen to attract students who might not see themselves as literature buffs. This spring they offered a $100 prize to the student who could make the best promotional video on “what makes English the best major at UMD.”
Department chairman William A. Cohen said the faculty has also begun sending a letter to every student who earns an A in an introductory course and is not an English major.
“I am writing to you because I noticed that you did exceptionally well last semester” in class, the letter states, “and I would encourage you to consider English as a major (or a second major).” The letter says the major requires “just 36 credits” — of at least 120 required for a bachelor’s degree — “and is flexible enough to fit in easily with your other academic pursuits.”
Amanda Bailey, an associate professor who is a Shakespeare specialist, said that when students make an astute comment in class, she often pulls them aside for a quick word of encouragement if they have not already declared in English. “You really have a knack for this,” she will say. “What’s your major?”
Typically, she emphasizes the “career viability” of the English major. “It doesn’t mean you have to be an English teacher,” she said. Medical, business and law schools are options. Good writers are in high demand in science, too.
The department’s recruiting efforts go beyond outreach. Its course catalogue includes more offerings with crossover appeal for the tech crowd: Literature in a Wired World; Writing in the Wireless World; Science, Gender and Classic Science Fiction; Literature of Science and Technology; and more. There is also broad cultural diversity — with many courses, for example, in literature from the African diaspora — as well as depth in the foundational texts: Chaucer, Shakespeare and the rest.
Will all of this work? Will English rebound at College Park?
Kent Cartwright, a veteran English professor and former department chairman, urged a shift in thinking at the highest levels of a university proud of its prowess in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “We’re so completely STEM-driven,” Cartwright said. The administration, he said, is “full of people with goodwill” toward the humanities. “But they see the well-being of the university in a certain kind of way. We’re just not part of it.”
Wallace D. Loh, president of U-Md. since 2010, disagreed. He said he likes to think of the university as a flower. “That flower has a long and very sturdy ‘STEM,’ ” Loh said. “But at the top of that STEM, there’s a flower, a blossom. And that flower is the humanities.” He said he walks around campus “with that metaphor of the flower in my head all the time. We have to nurture that blossom.”
Loh said the university is committed to maintaining a strong faculty in the humanities regardless of ups and downs in the number of majors. However, he said, if he had money to expand the faculty, and if someone proposed adding another expert in Victorian literature, “my answer is, well, not at this time.”
What about expanding faculty in computer science? Loh, worried that class sizes are nearing “intolerable” levels, said he would be more inclined to give that a green light.
Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. To comment on this story, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit washingtonpost.com/magazine.