In 2010, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School released a groundbreaking study that claimed to answer the eternal question: can money buy happiness?
The conclusion was that it could, but only to a certain point. Analyzing the responses of 450,000 Americans polled by Gallup and Healthways in 2008 and 2009, researchers found that the differences between the overall emotional well-being of those who made $75,000-a-year and those who made less than that were rather stark, but after that benchmark figure, the differences tapered off entirely.
That was nearly a decade ago, however, so it was high time for another study, perhaps one with a more global spin, and one that took into account the size of the household. That’s precisely what was just published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, courtesy of researchers at Purdue University.
The Purdue study analyzed the responses of Gallup World Poll, which is a representative survey sample of more than 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries. Like the Princeton study, the Purdue study also made a distinction between “emotional well being,” which is basically how often you feel happy in relation to the previous day, and “life evaluation,” which refers to your general satisfaction with your life.
The Princeton study didn’t find that one’s income had any significant impact on “emotional well being,” so the $75,000 threshold refers to the happiness that one has with one’s own life.
The results of the Purdue study align with those of the Princeton one, except that, now, the threshold is set at $95,000. This is actually slightly higher than the rate of inflation, as $75,000 in 2010 translates to $85,792 in 2018.
However, the Purdue researchers did find that while “the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation,” it was $60,000 to $75,000 for “emotional well-being.” So, $75,000 remains a threshold of sorts.
Andrew T. Jebb, the lead author and doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences, emphasized that the amount referred to individuals, and would likely be larger for families.
The study also noted that the optimal salary for happiness different amongst various regions in the world, and that wealthier countries required higher salaries. The lowest optimal salary was $35K, in Latin-America/the Caribbean, and the highest was in Scandinavia, at $100,000. The optimal salary is $105,000 for North America.
It’s interesting to note as well that the optimal salary for positive life evaluation was $100K for women, as compared to only $90K for men overall.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that, after $95,000, not only were people not found to be more happy, they actually became less happy than their lower income peers. This fits in with the “mo’ money, mo’ problems” theory, which hypothesizes that, after a certain point, an increase in income simply means an increase in responsibility and stress, and a decrease in free time that one can spend with friends and family and pursuing exciting new experiences or leisure activities. On a philosophical level, this is the greatest takeaway of the study.
“That might be surprising as what we see on TV and what advertisers tell us we need would indicate that there is no ceiling when it comes to how much money is needed for happiness, but we now see there are some thresholds,” Jebb said in the Purdue newsletter. “These findings speak to a broader issue of money and happiness across cultures. Money is only a part of what really makes us happy, and we’re learning more about the limits of money.”
For more advice on how to live a long, happy life, check out 25 Ways to Be Happier Now, How to Be Happy According to Einstein, or Top Longevity Secrets from the World’s Oldest People.
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