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READ: Does money buy happiness? It's complicated.

Updated: Mar 18

"I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude."

- Brené Brown

Brené Brown's words cut right to heart of what happiness means. Not a goal to strive towards or dependent on our external circumstances, but accessible to all of us, at any time. This is easier said than done, right? If we're feeling burdened or stressed by life, it can be difficult to summon feelings of gratitude.

One of the areas of our lives where we experience stress is in our personal finances. There are so many ways to feel the pressure of money concerns: unemployment or underemployment, debt, caring for aging relatives, and so much more. Maybe we're dealing with more than one of these issues at the same time.

Have you ever thought: "If I just made more money, my problems would go away?" I've definitely thought that, especially when there was nothing in the bank account. Then I think of Biggie's commentary on the money/stress continuum: "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." Was he right? Does more money actually bring more problems? Or does an increase in your finances bring you more peace of mind? It's probably a little bit of both.

While you certainly can't buy happiness the way you buy some material good, there's some interesting research that shows a certain level of income correlates with certain levels of happiness. Data from a recent Gallup World Poll of over 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries reveal some key findings.

The researchers conclude that there are two categories of happiness: emotional well-being and life evaluation. The emotional well-being category refers to how an individual feels about his/her life on a day-to-day basis. The life evaluation category refers to one's ability to account for long-term goals, peer comparisons and other higher level metrics. After controlling for a variety of factors, in North America the price of optimal emotional well-being is between $65,000 and $95,000 a year. The optimal amount for life evaluation is $105,000 a year. This research builds on a study by Princeton University back in 2010that put this figure at about $75,000 annually.

What's interesting about these findings is that there's actually an amount that represents a "happiness ceiling." The research further shows that after the $95,000 mark, emotional well-being and life satisfaction start to decline. Once you have enough to care for your personal needs and pursue some of your passions, excess wealth can lead to meaningless material pursuits and unhealthy comparisons to others in your peer group. This supports popular wisdom about money not truly buying happiness.

I certainly don't believe that making less than a particular amount necessarily determines how happy you will be. So much more than money determines our state of joy and contentedness. I think what this data does is inform us that there may be a "happy medium," where we can find balance. The data also shows that these income ranges vary in different parts of the world, which just goes to show that these figures aren't absolute and that our culture very much informs our perspective.

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