Money Only Buys You Happiness Until You Earn This Much, Study Says

Happiness rises with your bank balance—but not forever.

That old adage that "money can't buy happiness" only exists because it challenges what we can plainly see: that in many ways, money makes life a whole lot easier.

Research confirms that high income levels are associated with higher levels of subjective well-being, but until recent years, no one had explored whether this holds true indefinitely. Now, a new study from a team at Purdue University has found that while money does in fact enhance quality of life, it only works up to a certain dollar amount. In North America, that blissful number of peak happiness is $105,000 per year.

The study, which was published in Nature Human Behaviour, explored the emotional benefits associated with an increase in income—as well as its limits. The research team gathered data from the Gallup World Poll, a representative survey of more than 1.7 million people from 164 countries. They assessed individuals' purchasing power and analyzed questions regarding overall life satisfaction and well-being.

While the average North American was found to be satiated by an income of $105,000, the price tag on happiness varied greatly across the globe. The researchers noted that this is likely due to differences in cost of living and expectations surrounding lifestyle and wealth. However, in each location, the ideal income was high enough to meet both needs and conveniences, with some extra to spare. Beyond that, satisfaction begins to wane.

In fact, having much more than is needed was actually associated with lower levels of overall satisfaction and well-being. This could be because at higher income levels people tend to work longer hours, hold more stressful positions, and feel more pressure to continue working a job they don't enjoy. Furthermore, people who are driven by the lure of never ending material gains are often more susceptible to social comparison, which is associated with a lower sense of well-being.

So, if your income philosophy is "ever upward," consider this: there's a ceiling to the meaningful benefits of more money. Sure, an income bump will probably make you happier as more of your needs are met. But when the thrill fades, you'll want to find where your true happiness lies. And for more tips on living your happiest life, check out the 20 Biggest Myths About Happiness.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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