The happiness triangle

Many years ago, I discovered the triangle of happiness, a term coined by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam to describe the ‘points comprising where you sleep, where you work and and where you shop’. Putnam’s theory is ‘the smaller the triangle, the happier the human, as long as there is social interaction to be had’.  It’s something that has always resonated with me and I’ve held onto that little revelation for five years.

The happiness triangle

Putnam likens the triangle to owning a small fridge and frequenting stores more often, suggesting ‘the bigger the refrigerator, the lonelier the soul’.  Studies have also shown that long daily commutes have a negative effect on well-being.

It’s something that’s always been a concern for us.  After twelve months of the dream-quashing challenge that is the Melbourne real estate market, we took on a “renovator’s delight” and a mortgage much larger than originally intended .  Statistics in our local municipality tell us we aren’t the only ones.  My husband’s white collar career in a fairly niche industry meant the likelihood of finding work outside of a central business district was minimal.  Post GFC – non existent.

In a German study Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox two economists found that “if your trip is an hour each way, you’d have to make forty per cent more salary to be as “satisfied” with life as a noncommuter is”.  What that tells me is that every time we have “the conversation” about selling up and moving further out, we’re measuring how our standard of living needs to benefit in order to make that longer commute pay off.  And it’s not just financially.

In four years I haven’t really found a community here.  I get a high from buying local produce at the monthly farmer’s market sure but let’s be honest here, I usually resort to shopping in a large mall and that can be a soul-sucking vortex where nobody knows your name.  Having small kids amongst a backdrop of retirees and a sprawling mass of yellow-bricked surburbia hasn’t helped but I think my community will always be intrinsically linked with my mother and siblings anyway.  They don’t live around the corner and my best friend lives in Germany.  Social media can fill a void, but it’s a small one.

This week I asked my husband what was more stressful, a big mortgage or a longer commute.  He picked the latter.  And so I’m weighing up my community and whether I’d even find one closer to my family.  I’m weighing up what will happen if I return to the CBD for career purposes.  I find myself on again.

As collateral I’m working on building a community where I am.  I’m starting with the local coffee shop.  I’m making it a new year’s resolution to stop frequenting shopping malls so much.  I’ll be at the market tomorrow looking for fresh homemade ricotta.  I’ll take in a neighbour’s bin.  I don’t have all the answers just yet but I’m trying.

Do you or your partner deal with a long commute?  How do you cope?  Do you like to feel a sense of community where you live?



  1. says

    We live a an hour out from the city – on good day. It didn’t work for us with both in or in my case, near to, the city. Hubby went back to free lancing so he is always at home, my commute is only 45 mins and only 3 days a week. But for us, that was what we needed to do to stay in our community. It’s not perfect, but for us it works.

  2. Karen says

    I really needed to read this today. We live on the peninsula, but my husband works an hour away (probably near you by the sounds of it) and he has done for 9 years. We’re in the position that he could leave and run his own business, and I don’t know why we don’t just do that. Why don’t we? WHY?!

    Then there’s the part of me that wonders if I mightn’t be happier living in the city for a year or two. It’s something I’ve never tried. Elwood? Abbotsford?
    Then I don’t know if I could ever sell our house. It’s a keeper.

  3. Aimee says

    This really resonated with me. I love the way you write.
    Seven months into 24 months maternity leave and I’m missing my work community. My tribe, if you will. My job, although “only admin” in local government, was my identity and now I’m struggling with all the ups and downs that motherhood brings.
    I don’t “do crowds” very well and I’m not that keen on making new friends, but I think I may have to venture out of my comfort zone soon and build a new community.

    • says

      Thanks Aimee, that’s so kind of you to say. I miss my old work tribe at times too, it’s hard finding anything that replaces that sense of camaraderie x

  4. says

    We sacrifice space so we can live close to the city and don’t have to rely on a car. We have been living in this area for a while now and there is a lovely community around us. It’s nice to be able to go into cafes and know the owner by name, we even know the owners of the local 7/11. Having real life connections is very important to me especially now that I work from home. I hope you find what you are looking for.

  5. Sarah says

    I’m abit late to the convo, but we are on the cusp of buying our first home and we are having the same conversations. Currently my hubby commutes about 45 mins, but I want to b closer to my family & friends (& the beach) which would probably stretch his commute to an hour-ish. In our case tho, we could probably get a bigger house if we stay closer to his work, but like you say I want a community, I’ve been without for 10 years. And with my 2 young bubs & no work tribe it’s a lonelier path.
    Seems we are all alone but not alone in our situations. Yours is an admirable NY resolution too Carli, good luck! Xxx

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