Going Back to the Old School

Members of the Cadence Team have lived and worked in all kinds of cities over the years, all the way from Minsk to Mexico City and from London to Budapest and beyond. While these places all have their quirks, at least one thing connects them. Each of these cities have thousands if not hundreds of thousands of commuters, most of whom seem to savour their journey to and from work about as much as they savour a trip to the dentist.

What is it that upsets people so much about commuting? Overcrowding is a common grievance, as is the expense. Note that these are also two features of a day spent in a theme park, which suggests that expense and overcrowding are tolerable if you’re doing something you’re excited about. But there is a solution to the problem of hating your journey in to work that doesn’t involve quitting and spending all your time at Alton Towers. The answer is actually very simple – but before we look at it let’s see if we can’t figure out why people seem so very unhappy when they’re commuting.

Most people commuting on public transport are using their phones in some way or another, either for reading the news, writing messages, or for playing games. But what are these three activities? Reading the news is an attempt to find out more about what’s going on in the world. Writing messages is a way to engage with people, and game-playing is a way of temporarily departing from reality altogether. So the first two represent engagements with reality, but through the narrow prism of the telephone, and the latter is an attempt to escape from it entirely.

If happiness has anything to do engaging properly with reality, or at least exchanging it for something even more meaningful then it’s no wonder so few people seem to look very happy when they’re using their phones.

To try and solve the problem of how best to spend time, some people have found mindfulness meditation useful. Laudable indeed, but surely even the Buddha himself would struggle to stay chipper if he was crammed into a late-running Pacer train on a rainy Monday morning. Isn’t there any easier way?

To my mind, the easiest solution is to go back to the old school. If you want to engage with something meaningful then novels are yet to be bested. Enriching and engaging, compelling enough to be absorbing, without leaving you miserable and mesmerised. They cost virtually nothing and are great conversation starters, and they’re full of useful messages. Apparently they even make you more empathetic and attractive. So if you think you could be getting more out of your journey to and from the office, then why not pick up a book? It could be the best decision you make this week.

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