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?