The Price of Happiness: $50,000?

Alden Wicker

Good news! Apparently, happiness is on sale for the new, low price of $50,000.

Nope, we’re not talking about private trips to outer space, or even tuition for an Ivy League college. Apparently, all you need to be happy is $50,000 in yearly income.

That’s the finding of a recent poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which saw big differences in almost all facets of happiness between those who earn less than $50,000 and those who earn more.

Call it the happiness tipping point, if you will.

Respondents to the poll who made more than $50,000 were more satisfied with their lives concerning factors ranging from friends, to health, to how they spent their time. Unlike getting a raise from $35,000 to $40,000, or even $60,000 to $65,000, “$50,000 is the mark where you start to see significant differences,” researcher Susan McCulloch told LearnVest.

Happiness: Now 33% Off!

Depending on your own situation, $50,000 might sound like a lot. But this is actually a steep discount from what studies previously cited as the golden number: $75,000. A 2010 study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School found that, up to $75,000, each boost in income increased participants’ happiness. But after that, bringing home more income ceased to matter in their overall life satisfaction.

So it seems the sweet spot is somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000. If you make under $50,000, you might be stressed about your financial situation. If you make over $75,000, the additional returns on working longer hours might not be worth it anymore. But it’s nice to know that a $75,000 salary isn’t necessary to be happy. It’s just a perk.

Happy, stress free womanIn other words: the pursuit of happiness, for 33% off the original price.

What About Me?

Your next question might be, “Is the secret of life getting a $50,000 salary?” Not necessarily. A big factor in our happiness is how we compare to others. If you’re making more than $50,000, you’re in the top 44% of Americans. And, yes, you might feel good about that.

However, if you happen to live in a place with a high cost of living like New York City, where for some people even $300,000 doesn’t seem to be enough and the top 1% feel poor, that golden number might be skewed upward. Likewise, if you live in a place where the cost of living is low, your happiness tipping point might be even lower; LearnVest reader Carla seems pretty darn happy and is meeting her financial goals on a $40,000 salary.

Get to Your Happy Place

If you’re under the $50,000 mark, don’t give up on happiness yet. Like we said before, if you live in a place that has a low standard of living, your tipping point might be much lower. But there are some ways to push your salary higher:

Start Negotiating

The first key to getting to the number you want is to ask for it. Read our guide to getting raises, and check out this website which breaks down exactly how big of a raise you need to earn each year in order to get to your goal. (And if you need some encouragement: Here’s why Ryan Gosling thinks you deserve a raise.)

Find New Sources of Income

If a raise isn’t going to be possible, you can still look to pad your income by doing something you’re good at or just plain love. Maybe that’s SAT tutoringcake baking, selling new stuff on Etsy or used stuff on eBay (here’s how to set up your own store). This stay-at-home mom earns an extra $400 a month doing odd jobs on Taskrabbit. That’s nearly an extra $5,000 a year toward the happiness tipping point.

Have you found a way to earn money on the side? Share your tip in the comments, or in LV Discussions.

Already There?

If you’ve already reached your own salary tipping point, that’s awesome! But there’s always room to be even happier–so make sure you’ve checked these boxes, which will lead to long-term financial well-being.

Make Sure You Have a Budget

Even $200,000 wouldn’t be enough if you lacked a budget to help control your spending … and half of Americans don’t have one. But by visiting the My Money Center and linking your accounts to see how much you spend (and on what!), you can create a budget for free.

Focus on Retirement

The Marist poll also found that people earning less than $50,000 were likelier than people earning more to have trouble getting or paying for medical care (26% versus 8%), affording rent or mortgage payments (24% versus 6%) and shelling out for prescription drugs (19% versus 6%).

Interestingly, though, the study showed that even people above the tipping point were worried about retirement–an almost identical number of high income and lower income respondents (27% versus 28%) considered delaying retirement in the last year because of financial hardship. Taking care of this important financial to-do will take a load off your mind. Learn why it’s especially important for women to start saving now for retirement.

Know Your Priorities

If you’re already pretty satisfied with where you are salary-wise, know that there are many other things that factor into your happiness. Maybe your next negotiations should start focusing on other things, like: Would you be happier with a shorter commute, more reasonable hours or more vacation time?

Take our awesome work priorities quiz, which will rank factors like work culture, meaningfulness of your job, the benefits you get and the length of your commute to help you rank what’s most important to you.

After all, LearnVest is about living your richest life. We know there’s more than one path that leads to happiness.

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    • Jay

      $50K in which state?  in Texas $50K allowed me to have a nice lifestyle.  $50K in New York barely pays the rent

      • Marie

         They mention that in the article…

      • Momac

        Still; there is a Min wage that gets applied Nation wide; so even 50k is something, and depending on your priorities (and creativity) you can do very well with less than 50K in NYC.  I speak from experience (starvin artist wannabe filmmaker type), but I had a very understanding wife.  We got by with very little, but it was very tough and not much fun going to graduate school and working part time for 12 dollars an hour for 3 years.  But now, 6 years later, on a bit over 70K we’re able to live 4 streets away from cetral park Near the dakota house (straberry feilds).  We’re not “RICH” by NYC standards but definatly happy.   Really good pragmatic advice above. 

        • Bigdog

          They may have mentioned it in the article but they didn’t say which state. So it’s hard to guage what the tipping point is for where we live.

    • Beverly Young

      We make 20,700 a year and believe me, it would most definately make a difference if we could make 50,000. We live in California and we sure don’t have money to have any fun. Gas prices are beyond ridiculous so fortunately we live in a tourist area.

    • N_nicolaisen

      I make far less than that currently in Seattle, but I’m happy because I make an effort to be. I intend to make more money in the next year or so, but it’s not predictable and Yes, I would be a little more happy and less stressed if I was in that category. It’s still within everyone’s power to be happy no matter what they make. Just focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.

    • anon

      Money in no way contributes to my happiness, and I’m happy about that. I really enjoy learnvest for financial tips, but when it comes to these things, it bothers me. I hope and pray to never put any bit of my happiness into materialistic things.

      • SillyGoose18

        If you can’t afford to buy food/medicine or buy essential items for your family, I’m pretty sure that would affect your happiness. Likewise if you’re working 3 jobs just to get by. Money isn’t evil and doesn’t = being materialistic if you use it correctly. But it DOES contribute to your happiness by providing the support you need to live within your comfort level. 

        • Keith Cassinger

          That wasn’t anon’s point. I know people who make 0 who live off the grid and are indeed happy. Master teachers who make nothing even though they teach all day who are extremely blissful. Also mindset IS the factor of health and creates it. Study a bit more on epigenetics.

    • Dude

      I remember Harvard did a similar study and they came up with two types of happiness.  One which was 75,000, which covered every day stuff.  And then the other type of happiness which money can’t buy (love, etc.).

    • Rockstar_chick87

      Now is that per person or per household? …Now if it wasn’t for my debt, I’d be comfortable with my $24,000 a year, with my boyfriend paying half the bills (He makes about the same), that’s a pretty comfortable living. I really wouldn’t need more money other than for traveling which would be nice.

    • undrgrndgirl

      ultimately it depends on the cost of living where you live…it’s a matter of being able to comfortable pay your bill and not having to go into debt to fix your car or get medical care…

    • Michael Smith

      Is that $50,000 before or after taxes?