Researchers May Have Pinpointed the Exact Amount of Money You Need to Be Happy

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Humanity has been debating the truthfulness in that old adage "money can't buy happiness" for centuries, but it seems we still don't have a concrete answer. Some research has found that it does, but only up to $75,000 a year (circa 2010). Other studies have found that it does, as long as you're using it to buy yourself time, by paying for things like housekeeping services, or to purchase consumer goods that you think fit your personality. Now, psychologists from Purdue University are wading into the debate with a new study on money and life satisfaction, finding that people are most satisfied when pulling in a salary of $95,000 a year (per person, that is, not per family).

The study, published earlier this year in Nature Human Behavior, analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, which includes a representative sample of participants from 164 countries. They were looking to define a point of "income satiation," the point at which more money doesn't make you any happier. It examined responses that had to do with subjective well-being regarding "life evaluation" (as in, where do you sit on a scale of the worst life possible to the best life possible?) and emotional well-being (how did you feel yesterday?).

The researchers found that the ceiling at which more money doesn't provide any more life satisfaction was $95,000, on average. After that, in fact, subjective well-being started to fall as income went up. (Just as Biggie warned us.) Emotional satisfaction, on the other hand, came slightly cheaper—positive emotions were correlated with more money up to $60,000, and negative emotions decreased as salary increased, up until $75,000.

Obviously, though, location matters. A salary of $95,000 can buy you a different life in Thailand than in Sweden. In Western Europe and Scandinavia, the ceiling at which more money begets more problems is $100,000, while in North America, it's $105,000. Australia and New Zealand had the largest average ceiling, at $125,000, while Latin America and the Caribbean had the lowest, at $40,000.

It also varied across education levels, possibly because of different income aspirations and social comparisons that come up when people have, for instance, a law degree versus an associate's degree.

All that said, some comparisons at the very highest income levels were hard to make because of a lack of data—for example, the survey only included 99 people in Sub-Saharan Africa with incomes above $100,000, and only 1311 participants in Western Europe and Scandinavia with incomes over $200,000. The study also couldn't control for the different costs of living within regions—an American paying rent in New York City and an American paying rent in Fort Lauderdale probably don't have the same idea of what an ideal salary would be.

In other words, this study provides yet another piece of evidence that money does, in fact, impact happiness, but only up to a point. Considering the limitations of happiness studies like these, though, we may never be able to figure out exactly what that point is.

Arrokoth, the Farthest, Oldest Solar System Object Ever Studied, Could Reveal the Origins of Planets

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko

A trip to the most remote part of our solar system has revealed some surprising insights into the formation of our own planet. Three new studies based on data gathered on NASA's flyby of Arrokoth—the farthest object in the solar system from Earth and the oldest body ever studied—is giving researchers a better idea of how the building blocks of planets were formed, what Arrokoth's surface is made of, and why it looks like a giant circus peanut.

Arrokoth is a 21-mile-wide space object that formed roughly 4 billion years ago. Located past Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, it's received much less abuse than other primordial bodies that sit in asteroid belts or closer to the sun. "[The objects] that form there have basically been unperturbed since the beginning of the solar system," William McKinnon, lead author of one of the studies, said at a news briefing.

That means, despite its age, Arrokoth doesn't look much different today than when it first came into being billions of years ago, making it the perfect tool for studying the origins of planets.

In 2019, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons performed a flyby of Arrokoth on the edge of the solar system 4 billion miles away from Earth. The probe captured a binary object consisting of two connected lobes that were once separate fragments. In their paper, McKinnon and colleagues explain that Arrokoth "is the product of a gentle, low-speed merger in the early solar system."

Prior to these new findings, there were two competing theories into how the solid building blocks of planets, or planetesimals, form. The first theory is called hierarchical accretion, and it states that planetesimals are created when two separate parts of a nebula—the cloud of gas and space dust born from a dying star—crash into one another.

The latest observations of Arrokoth support the second theory: Instead of a sudden, violent collision, planetesimals form when gases and particles in a nebula gradually amass to the point where they become too dense to withstand their own gravity. Nearby components meld together gradually, and a planetesimal is born. "All these particles are falling toward the center, then whoosh, they make a big planetesimal. Maybe 10, 20, 30, 100 kilometers across," said McKinnon, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University. This type of cloud collapse typically results in binary shapes rather than smooth spheroids, hence Arrokoth's peanut-like silhouette.

If this is the origin of Arrokoth, it was likely the origin of other planetesimals, including those that assembled Earth. "This is how planetesimal formation took place across the Kuiper Belt, and quite possibly across the solar system," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said at the briefing.

The package of studies, published in the journal Science, also includes findings on the look and substance of Arrokoth. In their paper, Northern Arizona University planetary scientist Will Grundy and colleagues reveal that the surface of the body is covered in "ultrared" matter so thermodynamically unstable that it can't exist at higher temperatures closer to the sun.

The ultrared color is a sign of the presence of organic substances, namely methanol ice. Grundy and colleagues speculate that the frozen alcohol may be the product of water and methane ice reacting with cosmic rays. New Horizons didn't detect any water on the body, but the researchers say its possible that H2O was present but hidden from view. Other unidentified organic compounds were also found on Arrokoth.

New Horizon's flyby of Pluto and Arrokoth took place over the course of a few days. To gain a further understanding of how the object formed and what it's made of, researchers need to find a way to send a probe to the Kuiper Belt for a longer length of time, perhaps by locking it into the orbit of a larger body. Such a mission could tell us even more about the infancy of the solar system and the composition of our planetary neighborhood's outer limits.

The Moon Will Make Mars Disappear Next Week

Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Pitris/iStock via Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 18, the moon will float right in front of Mars, completely obscuring it from view.

The moon covers Mars relatively often—according to Sky & Telescope, it will happen five times this year alone—but we don’t always get to see it from Earth. Next week, however, residents of North America can look up to see what’s called a lunar occultation in action. The moon's orbit will bring it between Earth and Mars, allowing the moon to "swallow" the Red Planet over the course of 14 seconds. Mars will stay hidden for just under 90 minutes, and then reemerge from behind the moon.

Depending on where you live, you might have to set your alarm quite a bit earlier than you usually do in order to catch the show. In general, people in eastern parts of the country will see Mars disappear a little later; in Phoenix, for example, it’ll happen at 4:37:27 a.m., Chicagoans can watch it at 6:07:10 a.m., and New Yorkers might even already be awake when the moon swallows Mars at 7:36:37 a.m.

If you can’t help but hit the snooze button, you can skip the disappearing act (also called immersion) and wait for Mars to reappear on the other side of the moon (called emersion). Emersion times vary based on location, too, but they’re around an hour and a half later than immersion times on average. You can check the specific times for hundreds of cities across the country here [PDF].

Since it takes only 14 seconds for Mars to fully vanish (or reemerge), punctuality is a necessity—and so is optical aid. Mars won’t be bright enough for you to see it with your naked eye, so Sky & Telescope recommends looking skyward through binoculars or a telescope.

Thinking of holding an early-morning viewing party on Tuesday? Here are 10 riveting facts about Mars that you can use to impress your guests.

[h/t Sky & Telescope]

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