Money Can Buy Some Happiness

By Meenu Johnkutty ‘21

Figure 1. Money can buy happiness, but only to a certain extent.

We’ve all heard the adage: money can’t buy happiness. This statement, however, may be only partly true: a recent study suggests that there is a level of monetary compensation that ensures emotional wellbeing and an even higher level that allows for satisfaction in life. This study was led by Andrew T. Jebb, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University, and was published in Nature Human Behavior.


The study’s premise held that there is a monetary threshold at which emotional wellbeing can be satisfied as well as a monetary threshold for life satisfaction. The researchers defined emotional wellbeing as the feelings of sadness, anger, happiness and excitement that people experience in their everyday lives. Regarding life satisfaction, the researchers posited that such feelings are most likely influenced by the fulfillment of (or the failure to fulfill) personal goals, as well as comparisons of self to others.


As life satisfaction is dependent on the people to whom individuals compare themselves, the researchers found that there is a higher monetary threshold for life satisfaction in countries with higher standards of living. Based on this information, the researchers found that for a single individual in the United States, $60,000 to $75,000 was enough to satisfy emotional well-being, $95,000 for life satisfaction. Income data was obtained from a Gallup poll with a representative sample survey of over 1.7 million people from over 164 countries.


The researchers also found that beyond an income of $95,000, individuals feel less happy than peers who reported a lower salary. Though one might expect happiness to increase as income increases, the above finding indicates otherwise; Jebb and his team hypothesized that this may be due to a greater desire to buy more expensive items and the tendency to compare oneself to others with even higher incomes.


The study demonstrates that money is limited in its contributions to happiness; however, it also demonstrates how reaching a certain monetary threshold does provide — at least on a superficial level — a sense of wellbeing.



  1. A Jebb, et. al., Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world. Nature Human Behavior 2, 33-38 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0277-0.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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