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Data Suggests That There’s an Optimal Salary for Making People Happy

It's probably less than you think and more than you make.

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A new study conducted out of Purdue University and the University of Virginia suggests that there may, in fact, be a perfect salary for achieving personal fulfillment. The idea was to figure out at which salary range adults were best able to happily manage their work/life balance. Putting a number on that sort of thing is difficult, but the researchers managed the trick nonetheless. The study concluded that happiness will cost about $95,000 annually. 

Still, researchers were also careful to note that this figure applies only to individuals and attempts to measure happiness over the course of a person’s entire life. Day-to-day happiness, on the other hand, seems to cost less. Still, the findings are a bit concerning given that the average American household only takes in about $65,000 annually.  

Though it’s enticing to try and tack a nice square figure onto joy, personal fulfillment is actually a lot more complicated than that. This is one of the shortcomings of previous research on this topic and something that the study tries to address. The study measured not just short-term emotional happiness, but long-term happiness with one’s life.  While only 33 percent of Americans called themselves “happy” in 2017, happiness actually exists on something of a sliding scale. Andrew Tebb, a lead author of the new paper, told Fast Company that “a $20,000 increase from $30,000 to $50,000 is likely to bring more change to your life than if you make $20,000 on top of $150,000.” The idea of “more change” in many respects can mean more money. But as Fast Company points out, three-quarters of American households make less than $75,000 a year.

The popular counter to the age-old adage “money can’t buy happiness” has long been, “but it helps.” The survey demonstrates this to perfection. The money required for happiness can vary a lot from country to country. According to the study, in Western Europe, the optimum salary is about $100,000 while in Sub-Saharan Africa it’s much closer to $40,000. The $95,000 figure was arrived at after researchers averaged optimal salaries from the 164 countries surveyed. 

While it’s certainly fun to think about the right salary required for escape from one’s existential dread, even Tebb says to take the survey’s findings with a grain of salt. “Income is just one variable in the complicated equation of happiness. It’s not trivial, but there are other factors that are at least as important, such as meaning and significance in social relationships, family, and friends,” said Tebb.