Money can't buy love, or respect, or any number of intangibles — but it certainly can help you enjoy life more. In fact, there's widely cited research that your happiness might stabilize at a certain salary. It's a nice thought, and certainly something to build toward in your career, especially early on. Of course, the link between money and happiness also isn't that simple.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have just released a new study on that link, which comes to a different conclusion: Our happiness doesn't actually plateau at a certain income level. "It's a compelling possibility, the idea that money stops mattering above that point, at least for how people actually feel moment to moment," said lead author Matthew Killingsworth. "But when I looked across a wide range of income levels, I found that all forms of well-being continued to rise with income."
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Autonomy is one reason freelancers often report feeling happier than office workers, and increased access to money does allow more choice in how you live your life. Yet happiness tends to look different at different income brackets, and in fact, our aspirations for happiness may be more modest than we think. That said, it's important that we look for happiness in the right places; most often, that means not at work, even if being happy at works makes you more productive.
What's key is looking for happiness where it's most meaningful. "I found that people who equated money and success were less happy than those who didn't," said Killingsworth. Knowing how to recognize well-being might be your most valuable skill of all.