You are probably already familiar with the now famous study that once you reach a yearly income of $75,000 your happiness won’t change much by making more money. That number varies depending on where you live and a study from 2014 adjusted it to reflect cost of living by state. Since I live in Los Angeles, I checked the number for California (you can look up your state’s happiness salary here) and according to the data, that magic number is $95,325. Let me repeat it: according to research, you can be happy if you make $95,325 or more if you live in California. As the cost of living in LA has increased much faster than income since 2014, I imagine now that number is probably higher. How much money do you make?
Money is something that most job seekers and career changers struggle with: you are probably afraid of taking a financial hit if you change jobs or careers, or if you start your own business. If you are unemployed, you might be so worried about your lack of money that you cannot sleep. If you are feeling conflicted and unsure about what to do professionally, chances are part of what is holding you back is financial considerations – the profession that you feel called to do does not pay enough, especially for the first few years. While it is helpful to know that we now have proof that you are not crazy, or overly greedy, or spiritually unenlightened if you live in California and feel stressed about making less than $95,000+, it’s important to know just how many people actually do make the “happiness” salary. I did some research, and while I couldn’t find the exact percentile of people at this income level, I found some statistics of the income distribution in the state.
So based on my research, we can say that about 25% of Californians have a yearly income of $95K or more. What should we do with this data? Usually, career blogs focus on how you can achieve that income; what I always find missing from this conversation about happiness is that if we take that study at face value, we live in a society were 3 out of 4 people are not making the amount of money needed for happiness, nor statistically will be able to. So when we focus on just the individual, aka, you should feel happy at $95K, or you should try to make six figures, we are really talking to just 1 out of 4 people, and we are also implying you will not be happy unless you are in one of the professions that will allow you to make that kind of money. If 1 out of 4 people does not make the “happiness” salary, it stands to reason that most jobs or businesses are not adequately providing financially for Californians. What do we do now?
While it’s great to individually try to make more than $95K per year, we are missing out on what is a much more important issue: what do we do as a community when the majority of people cannot get to the magic “happiness” salary? Do we as a society have a responsibility to make sure everyone receives the money needed to be happy? Do we refuse to buy into the definition of happiness that makes $95K necessary to achieve it? Are we always moving the target so that only few of us can achieve happiness?
Shifting the conversation is key to finding your own professional happiness. If you are drawn to and inspired by professions that on average pay $95K+, by all means go for it. I am all about making all the money you deserve and can achieve. But what if you are drawn to a profession that pays less? Statistically speaking, that is more likely – as only 1 in 4 Californians make $95K+. What should you do then? That’s what is probably getting you stuck: you know what you would like to do, but it doesn’t pay enough. There is a reason why in hostage situations several countries make it illegal to pay kidnappers: they recognize that if you play by the kidnappers’ rules, they will keep coming back for more. This is your hostage situation: it’s your money or your life. What are you going to do about it?
If you are called to work in professions that pay less that your state’s “happiness” salary, I invite you to become very aware of the beliefs and pressures you are giving power to. And to approach your dilemma not just from an individual perspective, but from a commitment to break this cycle for all of us. Where can you start? Here are some suggestions:
- Break away from equating all wealth with money. Here’s an interesting TEDx Talk and transcript on multiple forms of wealth. What other types of wealth are important to you? Can your profession provide you with them?
- Learn about and connect with people who are researching, building, and working in alternative types of businesses, including alternative financial distribution models, such as workers’ coops, B Corps, and other forms of social entrepreneurship. Could having more meaning at work, and feeling a stronger sense of ownership, help you feel satisfied even if you are not making as much money?
- Build your own community, and heal your relationship to giving and taking. Do you think you need money for everything? Be present to all you are given every day, and activate gratitude and abundance in your life right now.
- Be of service. We know from many studies – and countless spiritual teachings – than aligning yourself with a greater purpose, and helping others, goes a long way to contribute to our happiness. Do you have a bigger purpose? And are you living it?
- What can you get involved with to change the rules that are holding you back? If the cost of rent is your main worry, can you become active in the fight for affordable housing, or join a group of like-minded thinkers who are building a community living space? Years ago in San Francisco I met a woman who couldn’t afford to pay the almost $2,000 per month which is the average cost of childcare in the area. So she got together with other parents and they formed a coop complete with rules and regulations so they could all help each other take care of their children without going broke. Who can you partner up with and support to change the system?
I founded Repurpose Your Purpose to break the insanity of thinking career problems exist and should only be solved at the individual level. While I work a lot with my clients on belief systems, personal branding, communication, negotiation skills, and more, I will not insult your intelligence by contributing to a narrative that ignores the way we interact in the workplace and financially reward people. Repurpose Your Purpose is based on inner and outer transformation, that includes helping you tap into the confidence and passion to transform the communities you are part of. Honor yourself by taking on a bigger game: the game to be happy professionally while helping others. Think outside the box, step into the issues that matter to you the most, and regain your power.