Recently, I can’t seem to avoid one question that keeps coming up in my conversations: “How much of an annual salary will make you happy?” My roommate asked me this question on a quiet Sunday evening as we both had a casual chat about our work week, discussing the highs and lows of being a recent, yet not so recent, university graduate.
“Well…I have very expensive taste,” I started. She already knew this of course, and had witnessed me ogling and drooling over expensive shoes, purses, and cars many times. Contemplating a number that would not border on ostentatious, I finally blurted out, “At least $400K to $500K a year,” feeling both guilty and greedy.
“What!” my roommate exclaimed, in utter shock at the figures I had just disclosed.
I began to justify my answer by explaining how I love to travel and try different activities, and that most experiences don’t come cheap. Obviously I would love to go on multiple vacations a year with my future family, and build a custom home to my exact and precise specifications. I suppose, I definitely did sound greedy!
Coincidentally, later that same week, my study partner asked me the exact same question as we sat on my couch taking a break from studying, reflecting on how we ended up in the accounting career path. Immediately upon blurting out the same guilt-ridden answer, I got the same reaction. “Whoa, slow down! Is that a combined family income or just yours?” he questioned sarcastically.
My study partner’s comments made me revisit my roommate’s reaction from earlier in the week, the reaction which I had previously disregarded, but could no longer ignore after experiencing the same feedback twice in a span of five days. That night, I lay in bed lamenting over whether I was asking for too much…was I really being greedy? How much is enough? What’s the average person’s number?
I believe we each have a number in our head, a number that signals to us that we have finally made it and are able to afford all that we have ever wanted. I remember a family friend of mine recollecting the times when he thought to himself, “When I make over $200K, I’ll be good!” And then when he finally hit that threshold, he found himself with no satisfaction, but only a thirst for more. His “number” did not end up hitting the spot. This raises the question — is the figure we think of as our “number” truly ever enough, and how much do we need to make us happy?
A TIME magazine article titled “Do We Need $75,000 a Year to Be Happy?” cited a study out of Princeton University that suggests any amount over the $75,000 benchmark does not make an individual any happier in terms of emotional well-being. However, as per the article, the study did note there was a positive correlation between how much money a person made and the general feeling they had about how their life was going.
This positive correlation isn’t surprising, especially in oil country, where pay cheques are stacked high and BMWs and Audis race by. However, they may not be racing by as quickly in these trying times as oil prices continue to remain low. It is easy to get greedy and want increasingly more money as we climb up the corporate ladder. With each rung we climb, it seems as though our number becomes ever so elusive, always seeming to creep up with each jump in our tax bracket.
As the economics graduates out there would know, the law of diminishing marginal utility of income is a principle whereby the additional satisfaction and happiness gained for each dollar earned decreases the more we make. Yet much of society, including myself, tends to fall into the trap of believing the more we make the happier we will be. We believe that after seeing a certain number of figures on our pay cheque, we will be overwhelmed with satisfaction and a sense of content.
I’m in the accounting line of work, so forgive my fixation on the number. But I can’t help wonder if my number is outrageously different from the average person’s. Am I greedy for wanting at least $400k? As I work, day in and day out, I look forward to the day my income is a number that I feel will allow me to live freely, taking care of those I love, and contribute generously to the community I am a part of.
So…what’s your number?
Banner illustration courtesy of Wanderer Online Design Editor Janelle Holod.