zygomatic commuting

My commute is short — 20 minutes on a good day, 40 minutes on a bad day, and over an hour only a handful of times in the 23 years I’ve traveled it. But in its station as bookends to my workday, commuting is a transition time that heavily impacts what comes after — in the morning, work, and in the evening, homelife. An unhappy commute can bleed unhappiness into the rest of my day.

Now… I am a competitive person, and I refuse to apologize for it. Competition fuels me to do my best. I compete with myself—with my own past achievements, which set the bar for my next achievements, and with my lazy self, which is always trying to get the upper hand—and I compete with other people, too. Sometimes the competition is transparent: a soccer game, a 5K, a job opportunity. Sometimes the competition is more subtle, such as trying to beat my fellow commuters to the exit ramp. Problem with that last one: Commuting is not (supposed to be) a competition.

Through the years, I have mostly shared the ride by carpool or vanpool, but through a confluence of circumstances, the last few months I’ve been on my own. I used to look forward to drive-yourself day in carpool because it meant I could arrive at work earlier or take the long way home, but when every day is drive-yourself day, it’s no longer a treat. The chore of the commute—the rote sameness of it—left me frustrated, and I took out the jittery frustration-born energy on my fellow commuters. Not that they ever knew it, but each one became a target for me to “beat” so that I could “win” the commute.

At the same time, nothing on the radio was satisfactory. NPR was too chatty. Top-40 too dance-y. Country too twangy. The sports guys talked too much about baseball, and the indie station was trite. I was contemplating a Sirius subscription—and then, I remembered Pandora. My only experience with Pandora was free internet radio, but I’d installed the app on my iPhone a couple years ago. (Back then, I thought having a lot of apps was really cool. Now I realize that, as with drive-yourself day, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.)

So, I cranked up Pandora, flipped through the stations, and found the same thing I always listen to on Sirius: comedy. Track after track of Dane Cook, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., and others. Good, solid, humor. Their jokes and stories made the chore of commuting much more bearable.

It may be just me, but when I hear something funny, I smile, and if it’s really funny, I could bust out laughing, and that’s exactly what started to happen on my commute—laughing. Lots and lots of laughing. Of course, it’s common to smile and laugh when you’re happy, but turns out, it’s been scientifically proven that smiling makes you happy. That’s right—we smile when we are happy, AND we are happy when we smile.

Listening to comedy isn’t merely helping me pass the time with enjoyable stories. All the smiling and laughing I am doing are actually brightening my mood. In my comedy-induced happy-haze, I no longer care how many cars pass me, cut in front of me at the merge, ignore my blinker at the exit, drive too slow, drive too fast, tailgate, front-gate, or plain old drive like an idiot.

I’d like to think this has made me a better person, but I am confident that at the least, it’s made me a better person to be around.

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