Big Money Versus Job Satisfaction

Katie McBeth  | 

You’ve arrived at a fork in the road.

To the left, there is a quaint home, with a loving family, and a job that makes you happy. You might not be well off, but you get by. You feel fairly satisfied despite some of the stresses of not having a lot of money from your career. Your job is what you’d always hoped it would be; teaching at the local community college, or working in a local non-profit.

To the right, there is a nice high-rise apartment and a fancy well-dressed spouse. You’re both living in luxury, and your job is stressful, but can afford you this wonderful view of downtown. You work most of the week, and even on some weekends, but you never want for anything. You might even drive one of those new fancy Teslas.

In life, it’s hard to discuss what’s best for any individual, and happiness is an opinion that changes with every person. Everyone has different desires in life, but many are faced with that one difficult decision: should I work to get a better paycheck, or should I work in the field that I love and possibly never break the ‘middle-class’ label?

Although it is impossible to decide for you, here is some information on what the experts suggest when you come to this difficult crossroads.

Money and Happiness

Having money will not make you happy, but having no money will make you miserable.

According to a study with the National Academy of Sciences, there is evidence to suggest that money, after a certain point, will not bring happiness. Researchers found that the cut off for money equalling happiness was somewhere around $75,000 a year, or a traditional middle class income. Any money made over that threshold did not equate to an overall increase in life satisfaction.

However, if you make less than that amount, “money” will make you miserable due to the overwhelming stress of not having enough to live. A professor of Psychology with Princeton that was an author of the study, Daniel Kahneman, stated: “It’s not so much that money buys you happiness but that lack of money buys you misery. The lack of money no longer hurts you after $75,000”2.

Limitations and Expectations

Of course, everyone’s pursuit in life is different. Not all people want a job for the pure satisfaction of it, some just want success. In those cases, not being successful and attaining a high income can be extremely detrimental to that person’s overall sense of happiness, as was noted in the study from the National Academy of Sciences 1.

If you’re that sort of person, then you would want to take the path to wealth and achievements.

Of course, with high income comes high risks and a greater chance of failure. Artists are an example of this, where many go out to achieve fame and fortune, only to fall flat in a market flooded with other artists striving for fame.

However, if you’re someone that isn’t out to be a millionaire, then you would want to take the road less glittered with gold. Although it may not get you a fancy new car or mansion on the hill, it will give you a satisfying outlook on life. Plus, you might end up being more successful taking the slower road.

Similarly, everyone’s current state in life is different. For some, they already have a family – and giving up their current job for a higher paying one in the city might hurt the happiness of their children and spouse. For others, they are dependent-free and able to afford spending more time at a job now to ensure their life is easier later.

True Success Comes with Time and Dedication

In the end, psychology proves that happiness through wealth cannot be achieved over a certain threshold. However, studies do show that following your passion will help you reap greater rewards through that job over a period of time.

In fact, the likelihood of success increases in line with the satisfaction one feels at their job. Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, has dived into the truth behind success. According to Pink: “Generally, people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at.” Thus, the happier you are, the better off you will be at that job.

Keeping that in mind, choosing the happier job could be the key to a successful life. Both in the sense of income, and overall satisfaction.

In conclusion, the question of big money versus job satisfaction is complicated, but easy to answer. Happiness is an opinion, but facts do show that wealth is no guarantee to happiness. However, choosing the more satisfying job could be the most beneficial choice in life if you’re willing to put in the time.

It’s almost like the tortoise and the hare. The hare runs fast to try to get to the goal quicker, but the tortoise, through patience and perseverance, is able to reach the goal first. Be the tortoise.


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Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth

This post was updated June 25, 2017. It was originally published January 25, 2017.