This threshold was originally posited by Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist, in a 2010 study that concluded that “emotional well-being [also] increases with login income, but there is no further progress beyond annual income of $75,000.
But in 2021, Killingsworth, a happiness researcher and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found that happiness doesn’t level off after $75,000, and that “perceived well-being” can continue to rise with income well above $200,000.
Kahneman and Killingsworth said their latest study was a “hostile collaboration,” pitting their theories against each other with the help of an arbitrator. The latest survey adjusted for inflation, they said.
How art, music and dance affect your brain and body
In their study, Kahneman and Killingsworth surveyed 33,391 adults ages 18 to 65 who live in the United States, are employed and report a household income of at least $10,000 per year. The authors said they had no substantial data for those who earned more than $500,000.
To measure their happiness, participants were asked to report on their feelings at random intervals throughout the day through a smartphone app developed by Killingsworth called Track Your Happiness. Killingsworth said in an email that the data came from “repeatedly pinging people at randomly timed moments in everyday life and asking in real time about their happiness at the time.” Specifically, they were asked, “How are you feeling right now?” on a scale from “very bad” to “very good,” he said.
The study came to two big conclusions: First, that “happiness continues to increase with income, even in the high income bracket” for the majority of people, showing that for many of us, having more money on average can make us increasingly happier.
But the study also found that there was an “unhappy minority,” about 20 percent of the participants, “whose unhappiness decreases with rising income to a certain threshold, and then shows no further progress.”
These people tend to experience negative “misery” that usually cannot be alleviated by making more money; the report cites examples such as heartbreak, bereavement or clinical depression. For them, their “suffering” may lessen as their income rises to about $100,000, but “very little more,” the study said.
The link between our food, gut microbiome and depression
“In the simplest terms, this suggests that for most people, higher incomes are associated with greater happiness,” Killingsworth said in a statement about the study.
“The exception is people who are financially prosperous but unhappy. For example, if you are rich and miserable, more money will not help. For everyone else, more money was associated with greater happiness to somewhat varying degrees.”
The study acknowledges that happiness or emotional well-being is a changing day-to-day scale for many people and that “happy people are not all equally happy”, but states that there are “degrees of happiness” and often a “ceiling” to happiness.
The study also found that money can affect happiness differently depending on income. Among the lower incomes “Unhappy people get more out of a higher income than happier people,” it said. “In other words, the bottom of the happiness distribution is rising much faster than the top in that income bracket.”
Michelle Singletary’s financial milestones for every age
In his statement, Killingsowrth made it clear that money isn’t everything — “just one of many determinants of happiness.” He added, “Money isn’t the secret to happiness, but it can probably help a little bit.”
The study also made its way to social media on Wednesday, with one Twitter user a joke: “Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness just doesn’t know where to go to shop.”
Another teased: “Money doesn’t make you happy, but crying in a Ferrari is more fun.”