New York, NY – Recent study results published by the National Academy of Sciences seem to debunk previous findings that happiness levels plateau at an income level of $75,000. The study was conducted by Matthew A. Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the Wharton School and an associate in MindCORE in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.
Previous research that has been used to set salary expectations for the past decade theorized that happiness levels stopped rising when an individual reached an income level of $75,000. The Killingsworth study, which surveyed 33,391 employees using the “Track Your Happiness” app, shows that happiness levels continue to increase past the $80,000 mark.
The Killingsworth study asked a series of questions, including “To what extent to you feel in control of your life?” This was coupled with a question about the importance of money. Not surprisingly, individuals with higher incomes were found to have stronger day-to-day well-being and a sense of confidence that they were in control of their life.
Ironically, well-being was not related to money in all cases. Low earners were happier if they thought money was unimportant and high earners were happier if they thought money was important. This is understandable, since concerns about money in scenarios where people aren’t making what they perceive to be enough of it lead to increased life stress.
According to the surveys, which produced 1.7 million reports of experienced well-being, money does matter. At no point does it stop mattering, no matter the income level. It’s the first study of its kind to focus on experienced well- being, which is how people feel in the moment, and not evaluative well-being, which is more of a macro view of life in general.
Matthew Killingsworth conducts most of his scientific research using a technique called experience sampling. The surveys used for the study on income and well-being were delivered at random times during the day to capture participants’ feelings in the moment. Previous work in this area focused on past experiences, not real time moments.
The first question in each survey was, “How do you feel right now?” Answers to this question were in two parts. The first was a scale ranging from “very poor” to “very good,” followed by a range of emotions respondents could choose from. Five of these were positive: confident, good, inspired, interested, and proud. The other seven were negative emotions.
The intro question provided a baseline for where the respondent was at now. Additional questions helped to determine their views on personal well-being and satisfaction with their current income level. When compiled together, this produced the data necessary to determine the relationship between income and well-being.
Older data showing that happiness plateaus at $75,000 might be outdated because the cost of living has gone up. The Killingsworth study does not show a limit to when happiness stops escalating as income goes up. There may not be one.