Moms Columns & Blogs

Is $75,000 the magical happiness number?

By the most recent measurement, many of my friends should be happy – if not blissful, at least content.

Well-educated and with plenty of job experience under their belts, they bring home enough money to make the magical cut of $75,000 a year. That figure buys us a smile and a spring in our step.

A new study by two Princeton University researchers concludes that the more a person’s annual income falls below that mark, the unhappier he or she is likely to feel day to day. Yet earning more than $75,000 doesn’t guarantee extra helpings of joy on a daily basis. In other words, money buys happiness, but only up to a point and under certain circumstances.

There are actually two types of happiness, according to the researchers: day-to-day mood and the deeper, longer-term emotional state that reflects life satisfaction. Annual household income has no effect on the former once you surpass the 75K benchmark.

But when it comes to judging how satisfied one is with life generally, money talks – and it says plenty. The more someone makes, the higher their overall life satisfaction runs. Those who rake in $150,000 report being happier with life than those making $100,000, and that long-term contentment inches up with income.

Put another way: A speeding ticket can ruin the day for Ms. Big Shot earning a six-figure salary. Her mood will likely take a short-term dip, but her overall outlook will remain positive.

By the same token, her administrative assistant making a fraction of her pay will be bummed by the ticket, too, but he’ll continue to feel unsatisfied with the direction of his life even if the ticket is later dismissed by a forgiving judge.

All this means that with the exception of the occasional day-ruining roof leak or computer malfunction, my social circle should be a happy bunch. They’re not – or at least some aren’t. And I doubt a fatter paycheck would change that.

My corner of the world seems populated by Eeyores on one hand and Winnie the Poohs on the other, and changes in life circumstances, income included, have done little to budge temperaments either way.

Well-to-do Eeyores continue to sing their woe-is-me refrain. And the Pooh Bears? They always find a pot of honey in their Hundred Acre Wood.

True, mine is a perfectly unscientific survey, but I’m sure my results can be replicated in other forests.

“Happiness is a choice,” my mother used to say when one of her children wallowed in self-pity. This from a woman who was orphaned at 7, spent most of her childhood dirt poor, fled Spain for Cuba after the Spanish Civil War – and was exiled again a dozen years later.

Happiness is all about perspective; about knowing the difference between mountain and molehill; about gratitude, appreciation and acceptance; about celebrating the little victories and enjoying the small pleasures. Pooh said it best: “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” Ain’t that the truth. And a balloon is pretty darn cheap.