So which measure of happiness matters more?
That's a philosophical question and perhaps one only the individual can answer, Deaton said. "That's a really deep, hard question. [Both measures] are important. But if you're unhappy now, the fact your life may be going well doesn't make up for that."
Social scientists and psychologists have long grappled with how to measure happiness, said James Maddux, a psychology professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who was not involved with the study.
The new study does a good job teasing apart the different aspects of emotional well-being, including more immediate emotions vs. bigger-picture life evaluations, Maddux said.
"This study is consistent with a lot of other studies on the relationship between income and happiness or overall life satisfaction," Maddux said. "What other studies have also shown is that money matters up to a point. But after a certain point, having additional money doesn't make people like their lives better or feel better about themselves on a day to day basis."
This holds true in other countries around the world as well, he noted. Once per capita GDP rises to a point in which people are no longer struggling to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, additional increases in overall national wealth don't seem to make much of a difference in happiness, Maddux said.
Maddux urged America's beleaguered workers not to get too hung up on the $75,000 figure. That income level can mean very different things depending on how many people are in the family, what sorts of financial responsibilities you have and where you live, he said.
"$75,000 is not a magical figure people need to achieve to be at their happiest," Maddux said. "The point is there is a threshold at which peop
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