Why $50,000 May Be the (New) Happiness Tipping Point

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Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME

A landmark 2010 Princeton University study showed that money really can buy happiness — up to a very specific point. The researchers (including Nobelist Daniel Kahneman) found that up to about $75,000, annual income closely correlates with emotional well-being. Beyond that threshold, however, more income doesn’t translate into more happiness. On average, an American earning $575,000 isn’t likely to be any happier than one making $75,000.

Well, forget $75,000. A new poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion suggests that as little as $50,000 brings genuine happiness. According to the survey, those below $50K weren’t as personally satisfied with their lives as those above that mark in areas such as one’s housing situation, personal relationships and overall direction in life.

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The Marist poll didn’t gauge whether happiness drops off after $50,000, and therefore doesn’t directly contradict the earlier finding that $75K is a magic number of sorts. But it does suggest that $50,000 is a tipping point when it comes to overall satisfaction.

In every category surveyed by Marist — which included respondents’ satisfaction with their neighborhood’s safety as well as their health, employment, spiritual life and community involvement — those earning $50K were more satisfied with their lot. Those earning less than that were less likely to call themselves very happy, more likely to say the best was behind them and less likely to say the best was yet to come. They were also much gloomier about retiring and were more worried about financing potential health problems.

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The survey also found some depressing numbers across all income levels. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they had experienced at least one financial hardship in the past year; more than half said they had to cut back on household spending; 26% have considered delaying retirement; and 14% had trouble paying their mortgage or rent.