Can money buy happiness? Two researchers posit that for most Americans, "the answer is, seemingly, yes," The Washington Post reports.
Prominent researchers Daniel Kahneman and Matthew Killingsworth posit that happiness steadily increases as incomes rises, and "even accelerates as pay rises beyond $100,000 a year — as long as the person enjoys a certain baseline level of happiness, to begin with," Bloomberg explains. This conclusion, shared in a joint study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts the previously held belief that "people are generally happier as they earn more, with their joy leveling out when their income hits $75,000," says the Post.
Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist, initially concluded in a 2010 study that "emotional well-being [also] rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of $75,000." However, in 2021 Killingsworth, a happiness researcher and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, found that "experienced well-being" can continue to rise with salaries well beyond $200,000, the Post reports.
The pair called their latest effort an "adversarial collaboration," where they challenged one another's theories with the help of a third party. The study surveyed 33,391 employed adults aged between 18 and 65 in the U.S., with reported household incomes of at least $10,000. Kahneman and Killingsworth said they observed subjects with salaries up to $500,000, but lacked conclusive data beyond that level of income.
The researchers did identify a new happiness plateau, "but only among the unhappiest 20 percent of people, and only then when they start earning over $100,000," Bloomberg adds. "But even members of this unhappy group became happier as their income increased up to six figures." After this point, money stops affecting happiness, and "the miseries that remain are not alleviated by high income," the study says.
"In the simplest terms, this suggests that for most people larger incomes are associated with greater happiness," Killingsworth said in a statement about the study.