How much money do you need to be happy? Hint: Your sex life matters more

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How much money buys happiness? A wide body of research suggests the number is approximately forty thousand dollars a year. I interviewed Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, and he says once you have enough money to meet basic needs — food, shelter, but not necessarily cable “?incremental increases have little effect on your happiness.

Aaron Karo, comedian and author of the forthcoming book, Ruminations on Twentysomething Life, responds to the number with, “If you want to draw a line in the sand, happiness is having enough money so you don’t have to move back in with your parents.”

To someone who just spent four years in college living off nine-thousand-dollar loan stipends, an increase to forty thousand means a lot — moving from poverty to middle class. But it’s a one-time rush. After you hit the forty-thousand-dollar-range money never gives you that surge in happiness again.

Twentysomethings who are looking for happiness from their careers will benefit from research about their parents’ choices. Richard Easterlin, professor of economics at University of Southern California says previous generations have proven that our desires adjust to our income. “At all levels of income, the typical response is that one needs 20% more to be happy.” Once you have basic needs met, the axiom is true: more money does not make more happiness.

So then one asks, what does matter? The big factors in determining happiness levels are satisfaction with your job and social relationships. And in case you found yourself slipping back to thoughts of salary, according to Easterlin, “How much pleasure people get from their job is independent of how much it pays.”

Unfortunately, people are not good at picking a job that will make them happy. Gilbert found that people are ill equipped to imagine what their life would be like in a given job, and the advice they get from other people is bad, (typified by some version of “You should do what I did.”)

Gilbert recommends going into a career where people are happy. But don’t ask them if their career makes them happy, because most people will say yes; they have a vested interest in convincing themselves they are happy. Instead, try out a few different professions before you settle on one. For college students, Gilbert envisions this happening with part-time jobs and internships at the cost of “giving up a few keggers and a trip to Florida over spring break.” But even if you wait until you enter the workforce, it makes sense to switch from one entry-level job to another; no seniority and scant experience means you have little to lose. So it’s an ideal time to figure out what will make you happy: Use a series of jobs to observe different professions at close range to see if YOU think they make people happy.

It’s simple, proven advice, but few people take it because they think they are unique and their experience in a career will be different. Get over that. You are not unique, you are basically just like everyone else. Gilbert can, in the course of five minutes, rattle off ten reasons why people think they are unique but they are not. For example: We spend our lives finding differences between people to choose teachers, band mates and spouses, so our perception of peoples’ differences is exaggerated… And then Gilbert gets to grapes: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you, but really a grape is a grape.”

So your first step is to stop thinking you’re a special case. Take Gilbert’s advice and choose a career based on your assessment of other people in that career. You next step is to focus on social relationships, because in terms of happiness, job satisfaction is very important but social relationships are most important.

And by social relations, most researchers mean sex — with one, consistent partner. So consider giving your career aspirations a little less weight than you give your aspirations for sex. For those of you who like a tangible goal, David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College says, “Going from sex once a month to sex once a week creates a big jump in happiness. And then the diminishing returns begin to set in.” He adds, to the joy of all who are underemployed, “It’s true that money impacts which person you marry, but money doesn’t impact the amount of sex you have.”

Maybe all this research simply justifies the twentysomething tendency to hold a series of entry-level jobs and put off having children. Says Karo: “All we really want is to get paid and get laid.”


261 replies
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        • Sam Vincente
          Sam Vincente says:

          Sex is important, although if you were forced to choose the least worse of the two I would go for asexual. In fact, that would free you up a lot to explore other aspects of life. Celibacy is like a sex conflict with yourself.

    • rahul
      rahul says:

      hi im looking for sexy work ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    • JS Dixon
      JS Dixon says:

      Honestly as long as you are still getting good connections with other people and spending some time that is meaningful to you, that should do the trick. The point I take from this is that those who you most want to be most intimate you are, whenever you want to be.

  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I think the happiness researchers would say that we are all born with a tendency to be more or less happy. Optimists, for example, are happier than pessimists. And, probably, in general, asexuals are not as happy as people with a more average sex drive.

    • JayJay
      JayJay says:

      Penelope, please learn about what it means to be asexual. Check out, the leading site on asexuality. There is no evidence out there that “asexual” people are not as happy as “sexual” people in general. Being sexually attracted to people can make it easier to find a partner if one desires one, but that is all. By the way, many asexuals have a sex drive, it just isn’t targeted towards anyone. Good day.

  2. Bill C.
    Bill C. says:

    hehehe I guess it depends on your definition of asexual.

    “asexual because you don’t want to have sex”
    and then there’s
    “asexual because nobody wants to have sex with YOU” :D

    Depending on how one ended up as an “asexual”, happiness is seriously affected.

    Anyway… You’d be surprised how many things would never get done and how many industries would collapse without sex as a motivating factor. You’d also be surprised how many guys make a lot of money, then stand around at the bar, envious of the guys that are “pulling the chicks”.

    As far as a consistent partner, I suppose there are a lot of guys that take pride (happiness) in the fact that they got one chick to have sex with them multiple times. I guess you can say that monogamy… or at least the ability to create and maintain a monogamous relationship to one chick could be a source of happiness for a guy. However, there’s also the “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” of monogamy, so there’s also happiness in “serial monogamy” or other flirtatious behavior. :D

    At the end of the day, there needs to be something that made it worthwhile for you to waste your entire day getting money. That might be your 60″ Samsung television…….

  3. Robert
    Robert says:

    Bill – You pose a few interesting questions with regard to “pride (happiness) in the fact ‘guys’ got one chick to have sex with them multiple times” and “serial monogamy” however, I don’t think happiness (subjective well being) is equal to “pride”.

    Regarding serial monogamy David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, “Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study,” (2004) clearly states that the optimal number of partners over the course of their study was one (1). This seems to rule-out serial monogamy.

    • JayJay
      JayJay says:

      Robert, one study/book cannot represent all people nor rule out serial monogamy. I’m sure that study would say I, an asexual who doesn’t desire/will not have biological children and is open to having more than one romantic partner, don’t exist. There is no “one size fits all” rule when it comes to romantic and/or sexual relationships. I am positive that one of the reasons many people are so unhappy is because people try to follow society’s lifescript, which is impossible to follow because it’s an ideal. If I followed it I’d be severely depressed and suicidal. I agree that pride is not tied to happiness. Happiness comes from following the right path for you. Also, please read the online article “Is Serial Monogamy Worth Pursuing?” on the Psychology Today site.

  4. Gary
    Gary says:

    I can’t agree more with the statement that the only way money can make you happy is if you have enough to meet you basic needs, and after that it has no effect. In American society today, the richest people seem to be among the most famous. As a result, the American public is left thinking money will get them stardom. And it also seems that most people associate stardom with being happy, and most people want to be happy.

    * * * *

    Right, Gary. This is a great opening for me to link the research about how seeking fame actually makes people unahppy — whether they get it or not.


  5. murrell
    murrell says:

    Yes, it is true that relationships are important, but one of the biggest causes of Divorce is money and lack of it. When is fourty thousand a year everything to survive of of? When one has a family of 3 children that is not enough to survive off of. Most parents have a inside depression, because not only could they not give there children the life they couldn’t have, but they can even give them the life they had growing up! Get real. Money is very high on the list of important things. Money isn’t the Objects its the choices one with money gets to make. It is the situations that are handled with money. What happens when one loses there job? If they can’t get a new one with in 3 months are they losing there home? This and many more are situations where money is not just an object. It’s not vain to want to have the freedom to make choices the rich do!

    * * * * * *


    When I first started reading all this research, I thought the same things you are thinking. So I read more about the research. And I found that the studies about money and happiness are widespread and conclusive: When people make $100,000 they still fear losing a job, they still get divorced over money. It is true with people who make a million dollars a year. Becuase we never stop having those worries. Reserach shows that people think their money problems will be solved if they earn 20% more, no matter how much they earn.

    Most of our problems in life stem from out outlook, not our financial situation. Optimists are happier no matter how much money they have. Pessimists are sadder no matter how much money they have.

    You ask good questions in your comment. I hope that my response makes you ask more questions.


    • Shawn
      Shawn says:

      Quick note. I’ve worked as a private client (financial) advisor in Greenwich, CT for families worth in excess of $15-20M. Also served soldiers of most ranks in the military worth much less. Further, I grew up as an inner-city kid in a single parent home with a mother living on full disability. Having lived among and served both of thee very different socioeconomic demographics, I certainly agree with the 20% carrot folks chase as well as that the heart of the issue is the ability to have basic needs and options. Hands down, this is my observation.

    • Shawn
      Shawn says:

      …as pertaining to stability in terms of sex and money, it would seem that these things are, generally speaking, the byproduct of life patterns, characteristics, choices and opportunities etc that tend to most consistently lay the foundation for a happy life – not an independent source. Speaking of, I need to give my bride of 7 years and 2.5 kids a squeeze and get to work!

    • Ken
      Ken says:

      summary: if you want to be happy (or less unhappy, and less chance of divorce)

      a) live well within your means (more spending doesn’t bring long-term happiness)
      b) save, so that you don’t have as big a worry about losing your job.
      c) be married, so that you know that you’ve got that sex thing going (referenced elsewhere), and emotional, if not financial backup

      Sounds like living a pre-post-modern life… Sometimes, there’s a reason why people around the planet have all generally lived the same way for millenia.

  6. Wala Alzobier
    Wala Alzobier says:

    I think that money does buy happiness in my point if of view because I grew up not so rich so for the many people that experienced having money and grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth would tend to say money is not every thing or money would not buy happiness I think that idea relate to the situation person is in. As if for me if I had money I would have no stress on college or hear my father talk about how we are making it barely and that not doing so well in our educational life is not an option because my whole family depends on it .And as to the idea that having sex can some what releases some of the pressure of that particular moment however it does not tend to fix the situation because their financial struggle would still remain, And that having sex is not always the way to deal with stress.

    * * * * * *

    Hi, Wala. One of the important pieces of the research about money and happiness is that you need to start with $40,000 a year. This is because worrying about the basics is too stressful for anyone to be happy.

    And about sex: The sex once a week isn’t a gauge of happiness becasue sex makes someone happy. It’s a gauge becuase of all the things that need to be in place in your life in order to have sex once a week with a consistent partner. You need a stable relationship, you need to be close and loving, and you need to make time for eachother. These things, more than the act itself, I think, are what make researchers say consistent sex leads to happiness.


    • Mary- coun 109
      Mary- coun 109 says:

      I have a similar view. I don’t think that money necessarily buys happiness but i definitely think that it is highly included in ones happiness. Just like Wala I would be much happier if i didn’t have to work to pay bills and i could just work because the love of doing it. Money i believe depends on who has it; some people can spend thousands of dollars on one item where as i would spend a thousand dollars on multiple items and for not only myself. I am pretty happy with my life but the main part that makes me unhappy is the stresses about money. I can’t do a single thing without thinking over and over if i can afford it, if its worth it or will i save money. And on the subject of sex, well i agree that it is a activity that brings happiness but at the same time it depends on who your having sex with why your having sex with them, if there are emotions involved and how you feel about yourself before after and during sex. Sex can only really measure happiness once you have already had sex, obviously if you’ve never had sex you don’t know what happiness you are or arent missing out on

  7. Robert
    Robert says:

    I am sorry to say that the research just does not support the last two posts. Lack of money is not one of the biggest causes of divorce. Richard Easterlin economist at USC illustrates that people have unrealized expectations that may lead to dissatisfaction. Another reason that people are dissatisfied and choose divorce may be that many individuals are “maximizers” and are never satisfied with their situation because they are always comparing themselves to others.
    Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia goes to great lengths in his book, “The Happiness Hypothesis” explaining our lack of objectivity when evaluating ourselves. This lack of objectivity may lead to a sense of moral righteousness and reduce reciprocity, which is critical for healthy relationships to flourish.

    * * * * * *


    Thank you for your comment. I think you misread a bit — I didn’t say lack of money leads to divorce.

    I really like the other reasearch you cite. Right up my alley. In fact, one of the reasons I left New York City is that it caters to maximizer thinking.


    • Katie
      Katie says:

      I totally agree with your comment. If a person truly married for love, has reasonable expectations of their partner, has good morals, and one day finds themselves with a lack of money, they will not see divorce as an option to better their situation. The explanations you give for the causes of divorce are more likely to be the reasons.

  8. Doug
    Doug says:

    I concur… I recently went up in salary from 22k a year to 37k a year and I noticed that I was much happier as a result. However it was becuase I felt an equilibrium in the amount of bills vs. income. As my salary went on up past 40k I thought it was funny I didn’t even take notice of the increase. It made me no more happier. Soon my work got boring to me and monotonous. After I realized that I was working so hard on a job that I didn’t even like any more, I went back to the job that paid 22k because that was where I had fun being the best at what I did. I am much happier, and my wife and I have more time for each other, which in turn is a much more true and long lasting happiness than the previous job or money could ever yield.

  9. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    All I know is that, having gone to law school and been around a lot of big firm lawyers, including my boyfriend (whose starting salaries range from 100K to 150K), money does NOT make people happy. You would think that poor law students who get a huge jump in salary would be estatic. And they are estatic, for the first 6 months max, then it is pure MISERY.
    I have friends on antidepressants, drinking too much, etc you name it, and these are people making close to 200K or more! If you do some research, you will find that most big firm lawyers are really miserable and most new associates at a big firm stay an average of 2-3 years. I myself worked at a big firm for a summer, and though I made a lot of money, one summer was all I needed to realize that working 70-90 hours a week to save some big client from paying out money, was NOT for me!
    As for my boyfriend, he left his big form job after 3 years and took a pay cut from 200K to 60K and he has never been happier, and our relationship is so much better. I know it is because he loves his life and new job, and thus his personal relationships, with me and his friends and family have improved (because now he can actually SEE us regularly). So I firmly believe gobs of money do NOT create happiness.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to make more money, but I think that one’s outlook, attitude, relationships and so forth are way more important. And it is very important to find a job that makes you HAPPY. People might think that that is a “namby-pamby hippie” way of looking at things, but I firmly believe that if you do what you were meant to do, you will be more succesful than if you do what you don’t like. Because you are not constantly shooting yourself in the foot!

    And just to respond to Gary C, alot of stars are NOT happy. Why do you think they are always doing drugs? What ends up happening is that they make all this money and then are surprised that they are not fulfilled or happy. Then they turn to drugs etc for fulfillment or to dull the pain.

    I also agree that really rich people divorce because of money to, just like regular people. Once basic needs are met however, the answer may not be more money, it may be their attitudes and expectations about money. Ie that money will make them happy, or save their marraige or make their kids love them and so forth,

  10. Mike
    Mike says:

    Right, yet perhaps we use money and wealth as a means of making ourselves unique. If we are all clouded with inescapable similarity and no one is really all that different, doesn’t a new BMW both define and make “bob” a unique man?

    Also, possessions in our commercial society are representative of “time spent” at our specific vocations. The urge to gain more past bare bone necesities is the desire to be different when we are all DOING the same thing: waking up, going to work, eating, sleeping, procreating.

    Its a complex equation and the common denominator is the fact that we are pack animals, emulating, living and working together. When we look to define ourselves we look toward two man aspects of our lives: vocation and wealth. Since all we need (as cited above) is 4k, then humans look toward promoting their individualism through capitalism, yet we can never dominate it. Why not be distinct peacocks within our own carbon copy worlds? Because there will always be someone richer, faster, smarter, prettier and more charismatic than you.


  11. arlene  b dineros
    arlene b dineros says:

    i believe that money is not everything to make you happy. Many people have great careers, earning a lot of money than anyone else yet, they are the most miserable people on earth especially if they are bachelors or “old-maid”. From workplace, they go home all alone and no companion w/c means to say, lack of social relations. Thus, no sexlife. And believe me, these are the people who are very hard to deal with. They usually have bad temper and most of them, are not open-minded. And most of all, it’s hard to get along with this kind of people.

    on the other hand, i find those people who are earning enough to make both ends meet, have a loving and supportive family at home, very productive. These are the people who have “life” after office hours. And i can say that they are the fulfilled and happy people on earth.

  12. Harry Beckwith
    Harry Beckwith says:

    If you ever run across research on sexual frrequency among adults by age, I’d love to see it.

    I do know that almost every day, I give thanks for the passion my wife and I share, and laugh at the thought I had when my parents were the age Christine and I are now. I assumed that if they had sex, it was on some strange and infrequent impulse, or perhaps after a drink more than usual.

    To your happiness. . .

  13. Buster
    Buster says:

    I definitely agree with the article and comments here how more $ does not make you happier and in many ways actually makes you unhappy when you realize it didn’t give you the great feeling you thought it would (unrealistic expections). I feel you need to have the right view towards $ where it will give you physcial comfort and options that you didn’t have before, but it will NOT define your attitude, create real long-lasting relationships with people and give you emotional comfort that is only reached by achieving your dreams and aspirations.

    I actually find it appropriate to quote Donald trump in that “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.” In this case, that game being life. Enjoy it, live it!

    • Easterndrugs
      Easterndrugs says:

      I agree that sex workers should have equal rights to all other citizens. It should be no more acceptable to harm a sex worker than to harm a judge or a cop. Equality means that we are all entitled to equally fair and good treatment from society. By protecting and campaigning for the rights of sex workers we are really campaigning for the rights of all.

  14. Rob Schneiderman
    Rob Schneiderman says:

    More money = more happiness…….yes and no.

    In my opinion, the reason most studies do not show a significant increase in happiness (although the Pew Research Center’s study “Are We Happy Yet?” Feb 2006, does show a significant increase) is because studies are dealing with averages. The truth is, the average person spends any increase in wealth on consumption which we quickly adjust to.
    I love the quote in the “Happiness Hypothesis” which says, “those who think money can’t buy happiness just don’t know where to shop.”

    He is referring to how the “average” person spends their additional income on “things” which may, in fact make people LESS HAPPY. For Example People spend additional earnings on big houses in the suburbs which require longer commutes (in traffic) and more time in the office to make ends meet.

    It would be better to spend additional earnings on longer vacations with families where, low and behold, people have more SEX!


  15. Regina
    Regina says:

    More money makes you feel more at ease, because you don’t have to worry about the big dog taking advantage of you, but it also shows you that there can be some creative individuals out there that would try their best to take advantage of you as well. As for the sex, well it all depends on an indivudual. Once upon a time, I would have though my enchanting world would be over if I didn’t have any, so I had as much as I could. Now, I can take it or leave it, I hope that I can have so much money one day so I can say, I can take it or leave it.

    * * * * * *

    Regina, the sex=happiness thing isn’t really about the sex. It’s about the consistency. Same partner, each week, every week. It means you set up your life so that you are close to someone who is dependable and you make it a priority to tend to the relatinship. The sex is a red herring.


  16. Al
    Al says:

    I completely agree with the central thesis of this discussion. Our capitalist society is totally geared toward consumption. Buying is the economic engine of our economy. To keep the consumption fires burning, marketers have to sell the notion that you must buy to be happy. They sell us on a lifestyle of happiness based on having their products. The credit industry is also right there to make sure you have available money even when you can’t really afford it. In reality, they are selling us on some rather dysfunctional thinking and behaviors, none of which bring real happiness.

    True, basic needs need to be met. Not having food shelter and health care is serious. Educating your children is critical. I might argue that the actual $40k figure doesn’t work in the more expensive cities in our country, but the point is still valid. Our society simply doesn’t value the idea that beyond a certain point you have “enough.” These scientists are really onto something here. They are saying that beyond “enough” there is no real added satisfaction from getting more money. I appreciate this forum as it’s rare to find people embracing this idea. Set your goals reasonably, write them down, meet them, and then LIVE. Live through relationships, family, hobbies and those values that improve you and bring real peace. Don’t let the endless bombardment of advertising and social pressure convince you otherwise.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Al. Thanks for a good summary of the discussion here.

    Re: more expensive cities. I have lived in LA on $200,000/yr no kids, no mortgage. I have lived in NYC on $40K/yr with two kids. My happiness levels weren’t different. The thing that mattered in terms of happiness is that I’m a really optimisitic person. The things that make me sad, like fights with my husband or not getting exercise, happen indepdently of money. It was hard to live around so many people who had more money than we did. That is what is most difficult about earning $40K in NYC: The comparison.

    The idea that $40K does not work in an expensive city is sort of an elitist idea. Macaroni and cheese for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast is basically the same — very cheap– in Kentucky or San Francisco. The cost of living differences are mostly about rent and non-essential items. And you can pay rent on a cheap place in an epensive city with $40K/year. I will write more about this later. But a little now…..


    • Walter
      Walter says:

      I do think that eating macaroni and cheese or only oatmeal will make you unhappy in the long run. Both those foods are not particular good for you (think glycemic index) but not really noticeable in the short run.

  17. Al
    Al says:


    Thanks for your response. Perhaps I overstated my point a bit. I TOTALLY agree with you. My only point was that even the lowest of rents in NYC will be more expensive than the lowest of rents in WI. But you’re right. You can make it work anywhere.

    But it doesn’t really matter. The central point of this research seems to be that WE make happiness for ourselves beyond a fairly basic level of income. The trap is thinking that the happiness COMES FROM the money or can’t be found WITHOUT higher levels of income. I’m really excited to see data like this being highlighted in blogs and columns. It is just not the kind of message that you get from mainstream media.

    Please do right more about The Comparison factor. I’d be very interested in your experiences around social pressure (both spoken and UNspoken) in your various homes. Also, how long have you been in WI? What has your experience been so far?

    Many thanks for this discussion…

  18. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    “A wide body of research suggests the number is approximately forty thousand dollars a year.”

    $40,000 per year!!?? Not in the NYC Metro Area where that wouldn’t even be enough to pay for a small apartment, groceries and a modest car loan. What I’d like to know is who makes this stuff up and how much do THEY get paid?

    • ella
      ella says:

      So I know I’m a few years late replying here…was reading old entries.

      In 2007, 2008, and 2009, it is definitely doable to live on 40k in NYC. Many people in NYC do not have cars — I was able to live on 40k/year from 2007-2009, in an $1100 studio in a very nice Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope. It is entirely possible. I even had enough money to buy furniture, groceries, subway pass, entertainment, even a short vacation in ’08. I was not crazy cheap either, definitely afforded myself some unnecessary clothes, spa days, etc. I could have even had a 1br further out in Brooklyn.

      Unless you’re super intent on living in a super fancy neighborhood in the city, 40k is fine for one person.

      • Janson
        Janson says:

        What a great article! I’ve had what I’ve unintentionally lived an unusually controlled experiment for the past several years: Every year for the past five years I’ve made almost exactly $15,000 more each successive year starting at $42,000 in the first year. All the while I was doing basically the same work with the same people for the same number of hours. My relationship status has also stayed the same (single) as has my (poor) health. I’ve gone from around the bottom 42% of household income to around the top 7% without seeming to change anything. And I cannot, no matter how many old emails or journal entries I look at, find any evidence of any greater security or happiness in my life. I’m happy, mind you, and I’m not interested in being happier, but still, you would think there’d be some happiness bang for the buck. I have much less debt, I have retirement savings, equity in my home, etc. but there’s just no difference in my satisfaction with life. I’m stunned at this discovery and wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived it.

  19. sara
    sara says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I live in the Bay Area in California, which most people know is an expensive place to live, and make close to $40K year. I have a one-bedroom apartment and live on a budget, yet some months still struggle to make ends meet. I’m just curious to know the details of how you lived off 40K a year in New York with 2 kids. I want details, not generalities; I’m truly curious.

    * * * * * *

    It was very very hard. Here are some details.

    We could only read the Sunday New York Times online because buying it was too expensive.

    We could only get the kids one spring jacket, so it had to be a raincoat, and they wore the raincoats some days when it was not raining.

    My husband and I didn’t have the right clothes for family events sometimes and had to wear the wrong thing.

    We never, ever threw out food.

    We couldn’t afford a new vacuum cleaner so we wiped the floor by hand until we had extra money for a broom.

    I could go on for ten pages. It’s hundreds of little things — some more painful than others. The hardest thing was not living on $40,000. It was not finding anyone else who was doing it in our neighborhood. That was lonely. The real issue is how much do the people around you make.

  20. sara
    sara says:

    Thanks Penelope, I appreciate your candidness. I scrimp and save every once in a while, then get frustrated and go shopping with my friends or buy that bottle of wine I can’t really afford. I agree, it is hard to live in an area where wealth – or the appearance of it – is such a priority.

  21. jade
    jade says:

    If you couldn’t afford a broom, I’d say you’re not quite meeting minimum standards of living. Perhaps $45K could have lent a little more happiness in NYC, or at least a little more breathing room.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is what if you make 40K a year and have 100K in loans/debts (for example, from school)? If you made more money and (ideally) used the extra to pay off some of that debt, wouldn’t you be happier just knowing you weren’t quite so buried by it?

    I make just over 40K. I’m quite happy with it, but I know I’d be a lot happier if I had an extra 20K to pay off my remaining debt. *After* that, 40K would be fabulous.

  22. Al
    Al says:

    I’m guessing that the idea here is NOT to get into a full blown discussion on financial management strategies. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, an extra $5k or $10k would help. Yes, there are sacrifices. In the end you have to be willing to ask yourself the difficult questions about how you really want to live. I know from my own experience, this is not easy. There is ALWAYS more. You can very easily fall into the mindset of “if I only had X more dollars then I’d be happy.” You can do this for a lifetime and never be happy. Sadly, many people do. Money does NOT equal happiness.

    I think the social comparison has to be most difficult part of deciding for yourself how much is “enough.” Many of us lived extremely poor in college. But it was fine because everybody was extremely poor (at least most). You get into the real world and start to work and become friends with people who are making money and there is an invisible force to “be like them.” After you develop a taste for this, it’s hard to turn away. I would be interested in how people who have run with crowds like this ultimately changed paths.

    I really admire what Penelope has written here about the raincoats, the vacuum cleaner and saving every bit of food. That’s simply amazing. Most of America would have run up their credit cards under the idea that “they deserve it.” What discipline! What a role model. And if I understand correctly, they ultimately decided to leave the big city for a better quality of life. I’m sure the cost of living factored into that decision.

  23. Paul
    Paul says:

    Well if a great sex life is more important than a high paying salary for your happiness, what about the study that shows richer people have better sex than poorer people?

    * * ** * * *
    The guy whose research I’m referring to here, Blanchflower, says that more money doesn’t buy more sex, it buys more partners. And the correlation between sex and happiness is based on there being a stable partner.


  24. dimka
    dimka says:

    I think there is a modicum of truth in everything. On the one hand, the researchers are on to something most of had known for quite a while – after a certain threshold, money stops bringing happiness (particularly, if you’re filthy rich with a $20 million house, own airport and you get the picture lol), but sliding to the other extreme of barely making ends meet is also debilitating both for the person and his family.

    I think the pivotal locus of equilibrium here must be the person in question – how can he/she balance all of the vicissitudes of life and yet remain optimistic and content like Penelope? Some will be happy earning $40,000 a year and yet their happiness level will skyrocket if they suddenly start making $100,00 (more frequent vacations for the family, better car, home, etc)!

    So again, it’s all very relative and I can argue for the cons and prons of either side.

  25. Demetria
    Demetria says:

    I would have to agree that money doesn’t buy you happiness – above and beyond a ceratin point. In many ways – an attachment to money can cause strife in a relationship. I just recently exited a 2 year long live in relationship with a man that basically failed because of money. We both made 100K+ individually – but there were trust issues and we could nevermake things work. I originally went into the relationship seeking marriage, but learned over time that he had a major problem with mismanagement of money. People always talk about making money – but all of the money in the world won’t save someone if they spend it like water! The sex was great a regular and more than once per week – but the mismanagement of the money became a sexual turnoff. Even though I had plenty of money of my own – I could never envision a future with him. My observations of his money mismanagement ultimately ruined my chances of marriage with him – but I could never be happy with someone who squandered resources that way.

  26. Rob
    Rob says:

    Not that I agree with the results, but the Feb. 13, 2006 Pew Research Center study titled “Are We Happy Yet?” found that people who made more money were indeed happier.


    * * * * * * * Hi, Rob. Thank you for your comment. I’m pretty sure this study said that richer people report that they are happier. But a subsequent study shows that while they say they are happier because they think they should be happier, if you ask rich people and middle class people, hour by hour how they’re feeling, rich people are not happier. so the crux of the study is that rich people feel more pressure to be happier. Penelope

  27. Gion
    Gion says:

    Al’s summary put it best. The pressure to maintain the status quo will only increase in the future as long as our capitalist society continues to link happiness with consumption and sell it to us. We are only acting out the power of the advertising that we pitch to ourselves. What will reverse this trend? Social Pressure and failed expectations driven by empty advertising is what fuel this discussion. We sell to ourselves advertising that’s like empty calories with no nutritional value.

    I drove a Toyota Corolla (no power doors or locks) from my junior year in college to my current age of 29. While this was the Easiest and smartest thing for me to do Economically over the past 9 years, Socially it was among the Hardest. Why is that? Being a young male in my early 20s, I felt the pressure a 1000 times to over-extend myself and go purchase a fancy new car to impress the ladies. Would this have made me more happy? In the short term, maybe. – but I agree a monogomous long-term relationship is more fulfilling.

  28. Jane
    Jane says:

    I have two boyfriends that we are talking about long term ( marriage). ( please dont judge me yet on why two lets focus on the subject pls). first one is rich, have fancies cars – 6 of them, lives in huge houses -cost millions each, owns his own business and works almost everyday, i can have almost anything i want, but he hardly had time for me. then comes the second, works a stable job,lives in an apartment (a downside) travels everywhere in the world for holidays,loving and caring to no end,gives me so much attention, now you can tell im really in a dilemma, my heart goes with the second,he makes me so happy,but i feel a bit insecure like what if he loses his job? my mind goes with the first cos i wont have to worry about $ all my life,but will i be happy?
    . the second guy would be ideal for most of women,had she not have the choice to marry a millionair. will i regret one day if i marry the second guy that i gave up the chance of living in a huge house driving ferrari? I wish i knew.

    I dont see myself as materialistic, (it would be so much easier if i was ),after reading all the post i really have to think hard what really makes me happy.

  29. Demetria
    Demetria says:


    First of all, I would like to say that I am not judging you, because money is important in order to have the things that we need and want in life.

    I have continually struggled with the issue of money in all of my relationships. Consider yourself fortunate if you have a millionaire that wishes to marry you, because some view women as disposable play things.

    I would have you think about your assumption that you will not have to worry about money for the rest of your life – if you marry the millionaire. How do you know a pre-nuptual agreement wouldn’t be a condition of the marriage; has this been discussed? If for some reason you are unhappy in the marriage, it may make it very difficult to leave if you will have to severely downsize your lifestyle in order to do so. I think that your intuition has already let you know that the millionaire won’t have the ability to provide you with the time and attention that you want.

    Just some food for thought.

  30. Tim Kern
    Tim Kern says:

    Part of why people who make more money seem proportionately less-happy may be that they know on some level that they’re really working for politicians, who take higher portions of their labor, and give it to people that the person earning the money wouldn’t personally spend it on.

    In other words, they hate being robbed so someone else can waste it, and get the thanks!

  31. Rob Schneiderman
    Rob Schneiderman says:

    That may, in fact, be what you think makes you less happy.
    If your hypothesis that a transfer of wealth was the root of individual dissatisfaction was true we could easily test it.
    Simply look at some happiness data from countries with high tax rates (wealth transfer, higher portions of labor being spent, Etc.).
    For the “being robbed” proposition to be true the average level of happiness in countries with high tax rates would be lower. I am sure Penelope could comment on research into high tax Scandinavian countries.
    For Tim Kern’s statement to be true, then what about people who come into great wealth (inheritance or lottery) but do not have a higher proportions of their labor taxed and spent by politicians because there is no labor involved in the wealth creation?


  32. Tim Kern
    Tim Kern says:

    Rob brings up a couple interesting points, but largely missed mine. Only part of the dissatisfaction comes from the progressive rate of usurpation; as noted, though the act of simply taking one’s property naturally runs against my grain, it’s also the waste and the lack of appreciation that also figure in. Rob makes no judgment on the “averave level of happiness” of Scandinavians, nor of the size of their middle class, nor of the rate of change of proportionality of the middle class to the ruling class and the poor — all these are very important criteria.
    Saying “there is no labor involved in the wealth creation” in a lottery is true, and I’m not sure that people put as high a value on “found money” as on money they consider their own.
    As for inheritance, that’s an entirely different animal. Money available for inheritance has already been taxed in every conceivable way, and often the inheritor has contributed to the value of that inheritance, either by direct contribution of labor or by forgoing certain things or opportunities as that inheritance was amassed.
    So, though Rob’s arguments do indeed make me think, I can’t say they’ve changed my mind. The first is undocumented and incomplete; the second (lottery) is entirely conjecture; and the third is ignoring what I see are some major factors, so I can’t give it much weight.
    When politicians take from some to give to others, they are exercising some divine right: they are supposing that they have some claim on someone else’s property. Further, the are assuming that they (and their eneblers, the masses of voters who have no problem getting something for nothing) somehow have a better idea of how someone’s property (or life, as the two are closely-related) should be used than the person who earned the property in the first place. Democracy has no authority other than force of numbers; it’s just three wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for lunch. (That’s why we have a limited-government, constitutional Republic rather than a democracy, and it’s another reason why I’m impatient with those who pledge to uphold that Constitution and then ignore it.)

  33. Barry
    Barry says:

    ” alot of stars are NOT happy. Why do you think they are always doing drugs? What ends up happening is that they make all this money and then are surprised that they are not fulfilled or happy. Then they turn to drugs etc for fulfillment or to dull the pain”

    What?! Why do people always make the leap that drugs = unhappy. I confine my drug abuse to countries where it’s legal, but I always have a lot of fun and I don’t do it because I’m depressed, I just like it. One of my best friends smokes hash daily and he’s one of the happiest guys you’ll ever meet. Somebody has been watching too many after school specials. Take some recreational drugs from time to time, it’s fun.

  34. Robert
    Robert says:

    While I am sure it is a very stimulating topic,
    this blog is not about the pros and cons of drug use.
    Your drug analogy confirms the point that Penelope is trying to make. A moderate amount of money is leads to happiness and as you get more money you don’t get the same Happiness results. The same can be said for drugs moderation is the key and as you strive for more you get very little in return.


  35. Tinu
    Tinu says:

    If I could have a LOT more sex at the cost of a lot less money, I’d find a way to deal with it. Ha.

  36. Rob Schneiderman
    Rob Schneiderman says:

    One thing you might consider is an individuals RELATIVE income compared to piers rather than absolute income ($40k in this case).

    Economist Robert Frank (Cornell University) makes a fairly compelling case that where we are in the income distribution has a VERY significant impact on our happiness. In fact, in one of his studies he states, “There’s no one single change you can imagine that would make your life improve on the happiness scale as much as to move from the bottom 5 percent on the income scale to the top 5 percent”

    This might explain why many people in California sell their condos (bottom of income distribution) for $500,000 and move to Arizona or Texas and buy huge houses for cash (top of the income distribution).


  37. Al
    Al says:

    Rob –

    That really seems right on. Social comparison is an amazing force. I don’t think people totally get just how “real” it is. When you’re being influenced by social comparisons, your mind has all sorts of seemingly real reasons that help you justify or rationalize. It’s not until you’ve removed yourself from a situation that you fully see the forces that were acting on you. I don’t mean to be harsh. It’s only natural to want to fit in and be accepted. But in the end, you see that being accepted has more to do with who you are and not what you buy or can afford. Time helps bring perspective.

    Money is NOT happiness. Money can’t buy happiness.

    Practice saying that 100 times in a day and see where your thoughts lead you.


  38. Joseph Chen
    Joseph Chen says:

    What about having a dog? Aren’t there studies that show dog owners are healthier and happier? Would having 1-2 dogs detract you from sexual thoughts and at the same time increase your chance of encountering the opposite sex?

  39. Rob Schneiderman
    Rob Schneiderman says:


    It is interesting that you say the about animals.
    The Pew Research Center put out a study in Feb. 2006 called “Are We Happy Yet?” which does a regression analysis of that very question (dogs and/ or cats).

    They found no significant advantage to having animals. That is only for happiness, however, not health.

    If you google the title of the article you can read it yourself.


    * * * * *

    Rob, Thank you for bringing up this study. Good one. For the curious among us, here’s the link.  


  40. Anirban
    Anirban says:

    Its interesting to be reading this article , sitting in Bangalore, India’s silicon valley. The advice here is similar to Guy Kawasaki’s advice( ‘pursue joy, not happiness’). I wonder if this truth still applies in a developing country setting.

    Out of college developers here are getting paid salaries that would take six or seven years of work, they are buying new cars and apartments which their parents could never afford (very unlike the US). They jump for more pay every 2 years, often never thinking much about the kind of work. Sometimes they end up in a big branded company like Microsoft doing only testing, leading to further jumps. Most seek employment in software
    from other engineering branches because it pays well.

    Perhaps Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can explain this, because I dont see this need for ‘finding one’s calling’ in this crowd. (In the non- technology sectors though, a change towards unconventional career’s is very visible)

  41. Anirban
    Anirban says:

    …(contd.) Interestingly Penelope, even if you look at your own career graph, you shifted to maketing for the software industry for better pay, then to the 200K salary, before finally giving it all up for doing what made you happy. It’s an evolutionary process.

  42. Jacob Ashcroft
    Jacob Ashcroft says:

    I’d say up to $40k people would feel happier and happier like you said, but after that they’d start to feel more and more guilty of having too much money. I think if I had millions I’d feel guilty and want to give it away. I’d think ‘there are people starving in the world and I’m sitting here with my huge flat-screen HD television and expensive car. It’s not something that’s focused on, you rarely find people talking about this guilt in the media (film stars etc…) but I think it’s true for most people, except villains like Rupert Murdoch! That’s my 2 cents anyway…

    • TiffianyC
      TiffianyC says:

      I know from first hand experience that having lots of money while everyone else around you i.e. family and friends are struggling to make ends meet can make you feel guilty and paranoid. No matter how much you give them it is never enough. I recall sleeping with $10,000 in cash under my pillow. Needless,to say I did not sleep very well.

    • Shawn
      Shawn says:

      I’ve served a few wealthy clients and found them to be a mix of generous and not-so-much. However, they have all seemed to be incredibly hardworking and diligent! For those who weren’t as generous, it seems as if this is more of a knee jerk concern in that they work so hard to arrive st a state, value their wealth and dont want to give it away easily if it won’t be managed/used well. Those green bills represent years of significant work, risk, long nights studying/preping and inheritances/legacies of opportunities to be left behind. Most are self made millionaires who applied themselves and took a positive advantage of a favorable breeze of opportunity flowing at certain stages of life.

      • Hugo
        Hugo says:

        I re-read your last sentence a couple of times and it’s hands down the best description of what other call luck, but it’s not luck, it’s a favorable breeze of opportunity which still means hard work! Most people don’t like to work or don’t want to work. Well said, very well said.

  43. Christine
    Christine says:


    Lucy from Financial Times wrote a similar & much better article a while ago.

    You should check it out for some pointers.

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