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

iStock
iStock

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.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the Moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the Moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the Moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the Moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception—in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full Moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

This story was updated in 2019.

NASA Reveals How Living in Space for a Year Affected Scott Kelly’s Poop

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

When you agree to be part of a yearlong space study, you forfeit some right to privacy. In astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, the changes his body endured while spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS) were carefully analyzed by NASA, then published in a scientific journal for all to see. Kelly submitted blood samples, saliva samples, and cheek swabs. Even his poop was subjected to scrutiny.

As PBS reports, Scott Kelly’s fecal samples revealed that his gut microbiome underwent significant but reversible changes during his time in orbit. In what was surely good news for both Kelly and NASA, his gut bacteria didn’t contain anything “alarming or scary,” according to geneticist Martha Hotz Vitaterna, and it returned to normal within six months of landing on Earth.

Even after being subjected to the challenging conditions of space, “Scott’s microbiome still looked like Scott’s microbiome, just with a space twist on it,” said Vitaterna, who was one of the study’s authors.

The fecal probe was one small part of a sweeping NASA study that was just published in the journal Science, more than three years after Kelly’s return. Dubbed the Twins Study, it hinged on the results of Kelly’s tests being compared with those of his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth as the control subject.

NASA’s goal was to gain insight into the hazards that astronauts could face on proposed long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The agency has gone to great lengths to get this information, including offering to pay people $18,500 to stay in bed for two months in order to replicate the conditions of anti-gravity.

It also explains why NASA was willing to launch unmanned rockets into space to collect samples of Kelly’s poop. On four different occasions at the ISS, Kelly used cotton swabs to pick up poo particles. When the rockets arrived to drop off lab supplies, they returned to Earth with little tubes containing the swabs, which had to be frozen until all of the samples were collected. The process was tedious, and on one occasion, one of the SpaceX rockets exploded shortly after it launched in 2015.

The study also found that his telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes, had lengthened in space, likely due to regular exercise and a proper diet, according to NASA. But when Kelly returned to Earth, they began to shorten and return to their pre-spaceflight length. Shorter telomeres have a correlation with aging and age-related diseases. “Although average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes returned to near preflight levels within six months after return to Earth, increased numbers of short telomeres were observed and expression of some genes was still disrupted,” researchers wrote.

Researchers say more studies will be needed before they send the first human to Mars. Check out NASA's video below to learn more about what they discovered.

[h/t PBS]

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