Cycling to Work Helps the Well-Being of Mind and Body
Gita Widya Laksmini Soerjoatmodjo
Life, Albert Einstein said, is like riding a bicycle — to keep your balance, you must keep moving. Keeping on moving is what we do best nowadays — from home to the office, from one traffic jam to another. At some point, a question arises: is there more to life than this?
Psychology, particularly the positive psychology movement, instigates these kind of questions. For years, psychology has been preoccupied with disorders. Positive psychology offers a change of focus by opening doors to the exploration of what makes life most worth living.
One of the themes in positive psychology is well-being. The term was first associated with access to goods and services; it later developed into a more subjective concept incorporating emotional aspects — the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure.
There is such a thing as psychological well-being. Psychological well-being is inclined to the achievement of human potential — encompassing positive evaluation of one’s self and one’s life, a sense of continued growth and development, the view that life is purposeful and meaningful, engagement and involvement in quality relationships with others, the capacity to manage effectively one’s surrounding world, and a sense of self-determination.
So how does biking to work contribute to psychological well-being? Well, it’s difficult to attain this mental state if you are sick all the time. Incorporating active transportation into our daily activities results in a more sustainable mode of exercise.
Yes, there are reasons not to cycle in Jakarta. Statistics show that some 25 million people live in Greater Jakarta, with 9.2 million in the city itself, and that together they make 22 million trips downtown per day in 11.36 million vehicles. Jakarta’s annual vehicle growth is 9 to 10 percent, but the city’s road network expands at just 0.01 percent, raising future prospects of gridlock. Any member of the Bike to Work community, which celebrated its eighth anniversary recently, would confirm this everyday battle. I know because I bike to work.
First, a disclaimer. I am not exactly one of the most dedicated Bike to Work members. But during any period of absence, I long for the feeling of contentedness that reverberates through my psyche. That’s why I did my research on psychological well-being by interviewing Bike to Work members. The answers they gave me indicate I am not alone in seeing cycling as a means to achieving psychological well-being.
I bet some of you roll your eyes and say, “Oh, really?!”
But here are excerpts from the interviews. “Cycling teaches us to accurately assess our own capacities — psychologically, physically as well as financially,” one person said. “At the end of the day, the machine behind the bicycle is a human being, it is our own two legs that pedal the bicycle.”
Another person told me: “Before I started cycle commuting, I joined Bike to Work Indonesia’s mailing list to seek more information. Since then, the bonds of friendship have started to grow.”
Also: “Some people consider me weird or crazy. Well, to me it is nothing special because Bike to Work is actually workable. When people ask me why I bike, my answer is ‘Why not?’ I may be an anomaly and that’s OK.” Another member said: “Traffic is not friendly to us, yes. We no longer have time to exercise, yes. So cycling to work becomes the solution — you can beat the traffic jams and exercise at the same time.”
“Through cycling,” one person told me, “everything is interlinked with each other — on how you measure yourself, on how you spend your money for the bike, on how you use your bike, on your effort to be healthy. Just like the bike wheel, everything has to be in a balance.”
Another person said: “Cycling makes me empowered and more confident. When I am inside the car, I sometimes feel that I am trapped. When I am out cycling, I become more powerful. In the suffocating oppression of Jakarta urban life, we somehow achieve a sense of freedom.”
These commentaries reflect self-acceptance, positive relations with other people, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life and personal growth — and these are dimensions of psychological well-being.
So why am I advocating everybody cycle their commute as a means of achieving psychological well-being? Because my research is descriptive, exploratory and qualitative.
Give it a try. Who knows? You might end up attaining psychological well-being.
Gita Widya Laksmini Soerjoatmodjo is a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Pembangunan Jaya. Her research was presented at the Fourth Asian Psychology Association Conference on Mindfulness, Well-Being and Positive Psychology last month.