How much does happiness cost? 75k, apparently


Money can’t buy us love, but it can, apparently, buy us happiness—so long as we make $75,000 a year or more. A new study examined the responses of 450,000 Americans to a poll, and found that as income increased (from, say, $35,000 a year to $45,000), people reported increasing happiness and decreasing stress … until income hit $75,000. Anything above that point didn’t improve happiness any more, meaning it’s a sort of “happiness sweet spot,” reports the LA Times.

More money does not necessarily buy more happiness, but less money is associated with emotional pain,” the authors write. “Perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.”

My thoughts:  While it might be difficult to argue with the survey results of nearly half a million people, I’m thinking ye ol’ “happiness/money” matrix might not be quite so simple as the above story suggests.

To wit:

About 20 years ago I was sitting on my front porch in Seattle with all 4 of my room-mates.  Though I can’t say with absolutely certainty I suspect we were all drinking 40oz bottles of “Midnight Dragon” Malt Liquor which we’d purchased at the corner Korean Grocery store for the bargain price of $1.93.…WITH tax.

In between spine-chilling swigs of possibly the WORST beer ever imagined, each of us took turns bitching about how much money we didn’t have.

At that moment in my illustrious employment history, I was working about 3 different jobs.  Pouring coffee in the uber-present Seattle coffee shop, pouring beer in the uber-present Seattle brew pub, and fumbling around the world of radio as a overnight weekend DJ for the princely sum of 10 dollars per hour, no benefits.

To the best of my recollection, I GROSSED (not net, GROSS) no more than 13,000 dollars in any year between 1993 and 1997.

One of my room-mates was doing a similarly crappy job in the catering department of some big brand name hotel and I distinctly remember him saying “I think I’ll make 20,000 dollars this year.”  (This was maybe 1994 so keep in mind, adjusted for inflation that 20k is now worth like 16k in 2010 dollars…)

Kidding aside, I am 100% sure that when he said that I thought to myself “Man…if I could make 20,000 dollars I’d be living on easy street.”

Fast forward to 2010. 

Turns out I do make more than 20,000 dollars per year.  Quite a bit more actually.

Am I living on easy street? 


Do I have a roof and a car and food to eat?


But do I feel like I live my day to day life without significant money concerns or in a state of perpetual happiness that couldn’t be nudged along by a 30% bump in yearly income?

No.  Definitely not.

Herein lies one of the rubs of the human condition.

The “ideal salary”, the one that somewhere in the back of your mind you suspect would make your life way WAY better?

That number is always about 20–30% more than you currently make.

Doesn’t matter if your yearly gross is 13k or 130k or 1.3 million.

I’m no expert, but that’s how I’m seeing things.

Now, off to the Koren grocer to get a 40 oz of Midnight Dragon.…..


  • I don’t think it’s about having a particular salary. I think it’s about financial independence, not having to work at all. I make more than 75K, but it has not made me happy. It’s given me financial security, but not financial independence. I think money can help towards happiness when it’s enough to quit your job permanently. And then you can have time. After all, time is the only true currency that matters.

  • I actually agree with you, Sim. It’s also about job and life satisfaction. That’s why I though the 75k number was so random and arbitrary. Thanks for reading!

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