Tag Archives: happinesss

How much money do you need to be happy at work?

This post was contributed by Natalie Nezhati.

Footballers like Suarez may earn over £100,000 a week but studies show this might not be enough to make a person happy.

Footballer Ashley Cole was famously mortified at Arsenal’s offer of a £55,000 weekly salary. Demanding no less than £60,000, Cole’s angry response made for some horrified headlines. But as comically obnoxious and out of touch his reaction might seem, it makes perfect sense from an economic point of view.

Income is a relative value explained lecturer David Tross of Birkbeck’s Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, at a public talk at Birkbeck’s Pop-Up University in Leytonstone Library last week. It is determined by those we spend most time with: our peers, colleagues, family. Associating with obscenely wealthy sportsmen and frequenting the most exclusive nightclubs means that Cole’s point of reference will differ from yours or mine. Just as Warren Buffett’s will differ from that of the unfortunate toilet attendant who found herself on the wrong side of Cheryl that night.

Research finds we’re happiest when earning an equivalent or superior income to others within our peer group. Better then to be a top earner in an unexceptionally paid job than a millionaire amongst billionaires. Though if you want to put a figure on happiness, many agree that £50,000 is about the sum to aim for. That’s annual salary before tax, in case you were wondering.

At this figure, you can feel secure that your basic meets will be met with a little leftover to cover the odd trip to somewhere sunny. Earning above this amount won’t make you very much happier as the law of diminishing returns kicks in. So if you’re already earning £50,000 you now have permission from science to unplug your Blackberry next weekend and take that extra half hour at lunch, secure in the knowledge that any future payrise will make little difference to your overall happiness quotient.

For those of us yet to reach the all-important 50k, there’s still (scientific) reason to be cheerful. According to the ‘hedonic treadmill’ theory, additional pay won’t affect happiness levels too much because after a short-lived kick from the extra cash, you’ll simply adjust to the new level of income and return to your baseline level of happiness. So unless you’re living in real poverty that much sought after payrise shouldn’t make too much difference.

The trouble is we’re all shockingly deluded about what will make us happy. Research finds we’re consistently poor at ‘affective forecasting’ or predicting our future emotional state. As a consequence, we’re likely to overestimate the positive effect that a payrise will have on our overall wellbeing.

Rather than chasing the cash, David Tross suggests taking a less superficial approach and choosing meaningful work that matches your values. Life’s too short to be spent as a frustrated florist working as a tax advisor. Focus instead on what you enjoy and use your wages to buy experiences rather than things because studies prove that this makes people happier.

The message for Suarez and co. is clear: fewer Ferraris and more visits home to mum. Failing this, consider a move to Denmark or Columbia where people are comparatively very happy indeed. If this doesn’t appeal, just relax and wait it out. Statistically, people aged between 65 and 74 are the happiest of us all.

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