£37,000 – the salary you need to maximise your happiness levels

How much money would you like to earn? More importantly, at what point would an increase in salary and responsibility no longer be worth it?

I asked my fiancé this question on the back of a news story we were talking about on our community radio show on Friday. (Yes, it is everything you imagine – a hut in a playground, the noise of coffee cups in the background – it’s wonderful.)

“I’m not sure,” he said, “about £120,000?”

“£120,000??” I said. “You can tell you’ve come from London. Who earns £120,000??”

“Lots of people!” he said.

“Well, no one I know.”

The actual tipping point, according to research randomly conducted by Anchor Cheddar, (cheese? why?!), is just £37,000. 91% of the 2,000 people surveyed believe that there’s a point at which the extra salary simply isn’t worth the extra stress and the impact this has on your life. This point averaged out at £37,396.

Researchers also found that 56% of us would rather a job which had a low or average salary, but that left us open to have a rich and fulfilled life, than a stressful job which pays well.

money and happiness

OK, so what I did here was to go to Shutterstock and search ‘money cheese’, hoping that a stack of coins made of cheese would pop up, as a nod to Anchor. I got this. It’s not bad.

Does this figure surprise you?

It doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve been self-employed now for over six years, and my work flow naturally comes in peaks and troughs. It’s a classic freelance pattern – you go through a quiet phase, panic that no one will ever offer you work again, say yes to everything, then suddenly find yourself with 100 hours a week of work to do. You panic again, cut right back, until you don’t have enough to fill your time.


This could be just me of course, other people may well manage their time much better.

Anyway, my point is that I have come to recognise the points in this cycle at which I am happiest, and they are definitely not the points at which I’m earning the most money. The periods when I am happiest are the periods when I have time to be creative, to think about work from different angles, and to take my time over things. They’re when I can see more of my friends and family, have time to read magazines, watch films and go for spontaneous days out without feeling under pressure to check my phone every five minutes, just in case.

From time to time I feel a surge of ambition, and wonder if I should be striving to grow my business. Perhaps I should have a team, or a fancy office somewhere with bean bags. Maybe I need to start an agency, or become a world famous speaker? And then I think about it a bit more, or chase myself around for a couple of weeks, experimenting with a more hectic workload, and then I realise all over again that money simply isn’t a driving factor for me. Yes, I want to be able to pay the bills and go out to eat, but I don’t need fancy clothes or cars or exotic holidays.

I just need time and freedom.

Do you have a tipping point? What would it be?

money and happiness

Image credits – manaemedia/shutterstock and Authentic Creations/shutterstock



  1. 7 October, 2015 / 7:27 pm

    I’d probably have to agree with this as we are just below that at about 32 (before tax) so to jump up to that would mean we didn’t have to worry about bills. I dont want fancy holidays or a sports car but I want to be able to treat my kids to a day out now and again. x

    • Jo Middleton
      8 October, 2015 / 10:18 am

      It doesn’t take much I don’t think to feel like you have ‘enough’ – like you say, you really just want to be able to pay everything without worrying about it and then have a little bit left over for treats. Weirdly, I actually sometimes find I am LESS stressed when I’m really broke, as it feels like it takes something out of the equation – I don’t have to worry about deciding whether or not to spend money, and then feel bad about it, I just don’t!

  2. 7 October, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    I used to earn a 30K plus salary but gave it up to be self employed, I now earn no where near as much but I don’t have to as I don’t have the same outgoings. Childcare for two kids, the extra car, travelling costs etc have all gone now I work from home. I’m much happier earning less but it’s probably pretty similar figure compared to my previous outgoings associated with ‘going to work’. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to a super stressful job no matter what it paid

    • Jo Middleton
      8 October, 2015 / 10:16 am

      Good for you Toni. I don’t think I could go back to being employed now, not just because of the money side of things but because of the freedom and flexibility that comes with working for yourself – that’s priceless.

  3. Sarah Gray
    7 October, 2015 / 8:26 pm

    I’d love to earn enough money to be financially independent, to pay all the bills myself without the help of my husband (or the need for tax credits) but also to work similar hours to my current contract (24 hours, when I’m not on mat leave). That way I still get time with the kids. I miss them when I’m working as it is! x

    • Jo Middleton
      8 October, 2015 / 10:15 am

      I totally get the dilemma Sarah – tax credits are incredibly useful but also a pain, and the feeling of being able to provide everything yourself IS a very satisfying one.

  4. 8 October, 2015 / 7:44 pm

    My husband has a high wage but you wouldn’t really know as it is so expensive where we live. Infact I wonder how some families manage at all. It brings a lot of stress and in my opinion I would prefer him to earn less and be around more. Unfortunately he wants a job that stretches him mentally and that seems to come with long long hours.

    • Jo Middleton
      9 October, 2015 / 3:05 pm

      That’s a tough one Louise. I know some people DO get a lot of satisfaction from working long hours and being kept under pressure, but that does impact other family members. Does he have many hobbies or do you have joint hobbies? Maybe there is scope for some of that mental stimulation to come from elsewhere?

    • Sarah
      23 October, 2015 / 2:02 pm

      I totally agree with this my husband earns a £75k basic salary (which 5 years ago I’d never have believed) but we’ve ‘upgraded’ the house and you’d hardly know it to be honest. I feel like we have no more extra money than we did when he was on £30k and me and the kids hardly see him in the week. It’s our number 1 source of argument. It also makes me feel like my job is ‘pocket money’ I earn no where near his salary and it’s a very stressful job.

    • Brian Brown
      22 November, 2017 / 5:08 pm

      I understand the problem, as a husband on a higher wage. If we lived up north where housing (and nearly everything else) is cheaper then we wouldn’t need such a high wage.
      So what we should really consider is what proportion amount of income would you be happy with after you have paid all the essential bills (rent/mortgage, council tax, gas, electric, phone, travel etc.)?

  5. 22 February, 2018 / 11:03 am

    I always have thoughts of having a greatly paid job, especially while we are having a drive with a sleeping 2 year old in the back. We tend to pass all the big houses by the parks, with the traditional picket fences and long drives and pretend which one we will buy. But then we pull up at home and get real,l. As i dont want a over loaded work load, late nights and missing out on the kids concerts, shows and activities. We are happy if we have enough to pay for school trips, days out and can book atleast 1 holiday every other year. Just kiving comfortably would be nice.

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