How Much Money Do You Need to Be Happy? Scientists Calculated the Income Needed for a Joyful Life

U.S. dollars and a euro coin photographed in October 2017. A new study revealed the income that people around the world need to be happy. Matt Cardy/Getty Image

How much money do you need to be happy? For years, economists have been attempting to tell us what salary to target for optimal joy. The latest estimate, published in a recent study, might leave many Americans, well, unhappy.

First, some background. In 2010, researchers from Princeton University reported that a household income of $75,000 was enough to keep people content. The researchers behind that figure helpfully explained that a low income impacts well being, writing that they exacerbate "the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone."

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Not content to leave such frustrating figures to Americans alone, researchers from Purdue University decided to spread the wealth, so to speak, by coming up with a global figure. According to their findings, published in January in Nature, emotional happiness can indeed be had for $75,000. But if a person wants to be satisfied with their life, that will cost an additional $20,000, bringing the ideal salary to $95,000. And that figure is per person, so people with children would need to tack on some more (perhaps whatever amount parents spend on wine per year).

The researchers define emotional happiness as our day-to-day feelings. Life satisfaction is different. That measure is usually influenced by personal goals and also comparing oneself to others. Wealthy friends could make one's own life seem lackluster (raising the question of whether the $95,000 figure would decrease if social media ceased to exist).

Most people who don't have money would probably agree that its presence does offer at least some modicum of happiness—or at least diminishes some sources of unhappiness. But study co-author Andrew Jebb, psychologist at Purdue University, says that the concrete figure does burst the bubble of pop culture portrayals of happiness.

"What we see on TV and what advertisers tell us we need wouldindicate that there is no ceiling when it comes to how much money is needed for happiness," Jebb said in a statement. "But we now see there are some thresholds."

Jebb acknowledges that calculating a global happy salary figure is a little simplistic considering that cost of living and economic robustness differs around the world. But the researchers also noticed that people's requirements for happiness also differed.

"There was substantial variation across world regions, with satiation occurring later in wealthier regions for life satisfaction," Jebb said. "This could be because evaluations tend to be more influenced by the standards by which individuals compare themselves to other people."

Of course, there's another solution to finding happiness: change your definition of it. Those who can't find a side hustle to earn that prized $95,000 per year might be particularly interested in a study from 2010 published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. That study found that autonomy has more purchasing power than money when it comes to happiness. Those who can't focus on building your wealth may want to flex their independence instead. Rebelling against the norms of happiness could make you the happiest one of all.