Money Actually CAN Buy Happiness — And Science Figured Out Exactly How Much It Costs

by Katie Mitchell
Mary Turner/Getty Images News/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Personally, I’d be more than willing to test out that hypothesis myself, but researchers at Purdue University beat me to it. Researchers found that there is an actual amount of money it takes to buy happiness, but that that amount differs depending on where a person lives.

The study, which is published in Nature Human Behaviour, examined data from the Gallup World Poll. For the purposes of the study, all amounts are recorded in U.S. dollars, but researchers looked at more than 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries. If you ever experience FOMO after viewing your followers Instagram feeds, the results of this study may surprise you. It turns out, an infinite amount of money doesn’t make you infinitely happier. In fact, at a certain point, more money begins to have negative effects. Who woulda thought?

“What advertisers tell us we need would indicate that there is no ceiling when it comes to how much money is needed for happiness, but we now see there are some thresholds," Andrew T. Jebb, the lead author of the study and doctoral student in Purdue's Department of Psychological Sciences, said in a press release. "It's been debated at what point does money no longer change your level of well-being. We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being. Again, this amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families."

The study defines well-being as “one's day-to-day emotions, such as feeling happy, excited, or sad and angry.” Life evaluation, or life satisfaction, was defined as “overall assessment of how one is doing.” Unlike emotional well-being, researchers state life evaluation is more likely to be influenced by comparison to others’ success.

“There was substantial variation across world regions, with satiation occurring later in wealthier regions for life satisfaction," Jebb said. "This could be because evaluations tend to be more influenced by the standards by which individuals compare themselves to other people."

The study also found that once the optimal level of income was surpassed, life evaluation and well-being tended to decrease. That may be because after meeting basic needs, people with more money pursue happiness by seeking material items that don’t meet their expectations.

This phenomenon is often seen in newly rich celebrities like Cardi B, who said in an interview with Zendaya for CR Fashion Book, “One negative thing is that, even though I’m happy, I feel like I was a little bit happier two or three years ago when I had less money. I had less people who had opinions about my life. I felt like my life was mine. Now I feel like I don’t even own my life. I feel like the world owns me.”

According to this research, some people at higher incomes find that they’re actually just as happy as people with slightly lower incomes. "At this point they are asking themselves, 'Overall, how am I doing?' and 'How do I compare to other people?'" Jebb said. "The small decline puts one's level of well-being closer to individuals who make slightly lower incomes, perhaps due to the costs that come with the highest incomes. These findings speak to a broader issue of money and happiness across cultures. Money is only a part of what really makes us happy, and we're learning more about the limits of money."

The Notorious B.I.G. famously said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” and while many are far off from reaching the optimal amount of income, this study does reinforce that money cannot solve all our problems or guarantee happiness.