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$50,000 a Year Is the Happiness Tipping Point, Poll Says

Lisa Scherzer
Personal Finance Editor

Romantics have said no again and again. Pragmatists know the better question is: How much money does it take to buy happiness?

A 2010 Princeton University study said that the benchmark for achieving happiness is a $75,000 salary. Above that amount, people reach a plateau, after which more money has no significant impact on day-to-day contentment levels.

A Marist poll released this week contends that happiness yardstick might even be lower. According to Marist, "annual household income of $50,000 is an important tipping point in personal happiness and satisfaction with life."

The study, which looked at quality of life across generations, found that for Americans with household incomes less than $50,000 (93 million U.S. households) their financial situation spills over to shape a generally negative view of their future and life. No surprise — they're more likely to say they're not very happy and more worried about becoming a burden to their families.

Those with a household income over $50,000 (60 million households) cite a better quality of life in every category measured, including housing, health, finances and free time.

Is $50,000 the new magic threshold to ensure a satisfactory life? Not exactly. The Princeton research concluded that as people's income exceeded $75,000, the happier they feel overall, with levels of well-being rising along with income. But making more than $75,000 doesn't have an effect on their day-to-day happiness; above a certain income level, people's emotional well-being is constrained by other factors, like temperament and life circumstances, the study said.

A few more sobering findings from the poll: In the past 12 months, 64% of Americans, or about two out of three, experienced at least one financial hardship; 57% cut back on household spending; 26% considered delaying retirement; and 17% had trouble paying for medical care.