Do We Really Need $83K Salaries To Be Happy?

BreakingModern — You’ve probably heard of it: the magic annual income that correlates with maximum day-to-day happiness. First conceived in 2010, the so-called “happiness benchmark for annual income” — developed in an academic study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton. It has increased from $75K to 83K after being adjusted for cost-of-living per state, writes Business Insider.

But what about those of us under 35? We’re only making a median salarey of $39,700 a year, according to PayScale.com and Millennial Branding, Gen-Y research and management consulting firms based in Boston.

Money’s Not Everything

Of course, there are many variables at work, and salary is not a sole predictor of happiness: cost of living, family size, work satisfaction and the disparity between generational values contribute to happiness, to name a few.

Happiness, it seems, is far more than the sum of dollars and cents — and this is particularly true for the younger generations.

[Workers between 18 and 35] also want to find purpose in their careers, which might not mean having the highest pay,” Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of The Intelligence Group, a consumer insights and strategy group, told The Columbus Dispatch. “They want to be making meaning, not just money.

Besides, not all $83,000 incomes are created equal. Someone earning $83K a year for 80-hour weeks at a soul-sucking, morale-sapping, Dante’s-cubicle inferno can hardly be compared to, say, a work-from-home web designer who rakes in $83,000 annually by working flexible hours with a handful of clients.

A pound of feathers isn’t the same as a pound of tacks.

The distinction matters. “Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of Millennials said they would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring,” according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based independent-research and public-policy nonprofit.

So if salary isn’t the strongest predictor of workplace satisfaction, what is the factor that really will make us happy at work?

The New Workplace

In a nutshell, workers in our generation tend to seek work environments that provide flexibility, work-life integration, friendship, a sense of making a positive impact on the world and engagement in aiding social issues that they hold personally meaningful.

“[Young workers] were raised with a different perspective,” said Gutfreund. “Their boomer parents taught them to believe that their opinions are important.”

Workers 18-35 are poised to disrupt the future of work-life culture, as they will take up an estimated 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Cherished relics of Boomer and Gen-X values — such as productivity, high earnings and money-for-the-sake-of-money (damn the means!) — will take a backseat to what younger employees want at work.

happy millennials 2

Gutfreund told Forbes that The Intelligence Group has found of workers 18 to 35:

  • Some 64 percent say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.
  • 74 percent want flexible work schedules.
  • 88 percent prefer a collaborative work culture than a competitive one.
  • 88 percent want work-life integration, not balance. Integration.

This is consistent with a recent report by Millennial Branding, which found:

  • 45 percent of workers 18025 will choose workplace flexibility over pay.
  • 72 percent of so called Gen-X students (aged 35 to 50) consider “having a job where I can make an impact” to be key to their happiness.
  • 71 percent of younger employees (18-35)  want coworkers to be their “second family.”

A handful of employers are taking notice of these changing trends. Employers who are still holding onto the traditional 9-to-5 work paradigm may find themselves scratching their heads at what, exactly, makes us tick.

For BMod, I’m Raquel Cool.

First Image Credit: By Bùi Linh Ngân from Hanoi, Vietnam (Hanh Dung – Son) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Second Image/Cover Art: By Emanuele Spies from São Leopoldo, RS, Brasil (;funny!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Raquel Cool

Author: Raquel Cool

Raquel Cool is a Silicon Valley-based writer who covers tech, culture, science, and feminist issues. Raquel’s work has been published by the The Bold Italic, The Social Justice Journal, Mutha Magazine, Our Bodies Ourselves, and aNewDomain.net.

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