Wellness

Salary sweet spot: New study claims that this specific amount of money actually can buy happiness

The catch is our "grass is always greener" mentality has got to go, tho...

The catch is our "grass is always greener" mentality has got to go, tho...

(Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The economic forecast laid out by The Beatles was quite accurate: money can't buy you love. That said, according to a new study out of Purdue University, it turns out you can, in fact, purchase yourself a little happiness — at least to a point. In a massive, global sample spanning 164 countries and including data culled and crunched from 1.7 million people, researchers have arrived at a salary sweet spot they say can make an individual happy.

Lead author and doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences, Andrew T. Jebb confirms his team "found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being." The global estimates were reported in U.S. dollars per individual, averaged to account for relative purchasing power and then cross referenced with questionnaires exploring two main facets of each earner's experience: their sense of emotional well-being (which, for the purposes of this study, was defined as the range of positive feeling states like happiness and negative ones like sadness that are felt daily) and overall life satisfaction (which, for most, hinges on attaining set goals but also on one's success relative to others). Those numbers in Canadian funds would be $120,307 for life evaluation and $76,000 to $95,000 for emotional well-being, respectively. If you're making that or more, kudos. But seeing as the average salary in Canada is $51,000 (or $986 a week) you may be more inclined to cling to ideologies aligned with life's enriching intangibles, like a pursuit of purpose, instead.

Researchers also discovered that there was a clear tipping point just beyond the numbers: once the salary in question was attained, life satisfaction and well-being began to drop off. Jebb's team theorizes that after basic needs are met and modern conveniences are acquired, the cycle of want simply begins again — and the study's findings back up their hypothesis. They found that as soon as an ideal income was surpassed, people began clamouring for meaning in more material pursuits, or by comparisons to newly and nearly attainable — but still out of reach — social classes. "At this point they are asking themselves, 'Overall, how am I doing?' and 'How do I compare to other people?' Jebb said."

This crux of comparison is critical. A study from 2008 found that one's level of income isn't the sole benchmark worth striving for, because it doesn't factor in relative success. Christopher Boyce, psychologist at University of Stirling's Department of Economics, told the CBC that when "you look across the income distribution, people at the top do tend to be somewhat happier … but it's the ranking that is actually important." So comparisons can even torpedo the various joys of a six-figure salary. Put another way, there's always going to be someone in your circle who's sipping their dirty martini (which I imagine to be punctuated with olives skewered on a golden toothpick) from the deck of a bigger yacht. Or canoeing with nicer paddles, depending on your current financial status.  

Should you be sitting satisfied and smug knowing that you already have the nicest house on the block, experts warn that your peace of mind has a very finite life. Boyce asserts that even "if you do have a bigger house in the neighbourhood, that might encourage everyone else being dissatisfied with their houses to make their house bigger, and by doing that, they'll lessen their dissatisfaction." And successfully increase yours. Happiness, Einstein reminds us, is a moving target and more humble pursuits may actually be favoured if true contentment is your goal.

Compellingly, Jebb also confirms that the price point at which a pleased state was attainable changed drastically depending on world geography "with satiation occurring later in wealthier regions for life satisfaction." Life satisfaction for Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, was attained at $35,000 whereas a salary of $125,000 was needed to generate the same satiety in Australia and New Zealand. Jebb posits that the global variations "could be because evaluations tend to be more influenced by the standards by which individuals compare themselves to other people." A strong case for retiring in the Cayman Islands.  

But if you're still not certain whether you should hustle your way into that corner office or bid your boss adieu and go backpacking through Nepal, have a listen to some comedic talents debate the finer points of purchasing peace of mind on CBC's The Debaters with Steve Patterson. Some highlights include actor Lorne Cardinal (who you'd recognize from countless movies but most likely Corner Gas) arguing that there's just no comparing the buttery leather seats on a first class flight to having to gamble with which "mystery stain" to sit in on a cross-country bus trip. In the other camp, comedian Charlie Demers maintains that saying "money brings happiness is like saying chopsticks provide nutrients." Currency is really just a means to an end.

On that note, the etymology of currency is from the Latin word currens. It means "condition of flowing" ("current", has the same root and it's why rivers and electricity are also described as things that flow or run). One supposes it all depends on how much flow you think you need to be truly content. Which, gentle reminder, will almost certainly change once you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of people with a lot more flow than you.


Marc Beaulieu is a Montreal writer, producer, performer, professional host and mental health advocate whose one true love is weird news.

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