Finance | March 15, 2021 12:22 pm

The Price of Happiness in the United States Is Probably More Than You Make

According to a study of income and satisfaction, the U.S. has it tough, but better than Australia

A man on a cliff shouting in joy overlooking a beach, suggesting happiness
The quantified price of happiness in every country is usually more than the median income.
KAL VISUALS / Unsplash

Happiness, but at what price?

According to a Purdue University study and the money management site Expensivity, that number is $105,000 in the United States, or nearly $36,000 more than this country’s median household income.

The initial Purdue study, “Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world,” examined the level of income at which satiation occurs on a global level — in other words, when increases in income no longer produce meaningful benefits to happiness — utilizing information culled from 1.7 million people worldwide via a Gallup poll. Expensivity then combined that information with purchasing power ratios from the World Bank to determine a happiness premium for each country (along with local cost-of-living adjustments).

A chart from Expensivity showing The Price of Happiness in every country
A chart from Expensivity showing the “price of happiness” in every country
Expensivity

While the good news is happiness doesn’t require obscene wealth, the bad news is that in a lot of “happy” countries, you need to be doing better than average in your income.

Some key findings:

  • Life satisfaction is the most expensive in Bermuda, where the cost of living is 47% higher than in New York City
  • Australia — always a major player in “most livable places” surveys — had the second highest cost of happiness
  • The lowest barrier to happiness? Head to the South American country of Suriname, where local happiness is just under $6,800 (but the average income is $5,500, so again, slightly out of reach for many).
  • If you want to narrow things down to cities, your happiness will cost the most in New York City ($139,183), Honolulu and Bern, Switzerland

If you want to find happiness relatively near the U.S., you’re in luck — many of our southern neighbors in Panama, Antigua, Costa Rica and Mexico have happiness indexes roughly between $16K and $38K. In Europe, Portugal is under $70K. And many of those countries place highly in a recent “best places to retire” list.