How Much Money Is Enough?: A Conversation with Gretchen Rubin

Research shows that money can buy happiness sometimes—but the amount of money isn’t one-size-fits-all.

J.D. Roth talked to Gretchen Rubin about how to find the number that works for you.


J.D.: Once people have a certain amount of money or a certain amount of material comfort, that additional money only brings on a marginal increase in happiness. I should trace back where the figure came from, but they say, “After $75,000 there’s no difference in happiness.”

Gretchen: That’s is obviously not true. The number itself is almost meaningless. I live in New York City, where $75,000 means one thing. But my grandparents live in North Butte, Nebraska, and $75,000 is a lot different there.

The truth is, there are many factors that go into happiness for an individual. It depends on lifestyle choices, and the hand you’re dealt. Maybe I have two kids and you have 12 kids. I want a horse; you want a turtle. I like to rent movies; you like to collect modern art. I have two elderly parents with a lot of health issues; your parents are young and strong. Statistically, maybe $75,000 is true. But that number doesn’t really help you, as an individual, know what will make you happy.

It’s like saying that the best height  for happiness is five feet, six inches. Well, do you play basketball? Are you a jockey?

J.D.: So relative wealth is what’s most important.

Gretchen: Exactly.

J.D: Comparing the amount of money you have to your neighbors, friends, and family isn’t the issue. The issue is what your expectations are and if your reality fits those expectations. I know people who don’t have a lot of money. And yet they’re happy as can be, even though their friends are wealthier. They have lower expectations and they don’t want a lot. They’re happy with what they have, and it’s a choice they make.

Gretchen: Yeah. I have two friends who are married. They deliberately constructed their life so that at any point, if they wanted to work for the government, doing so wouldn’t affect their lifestyle. They wouldn’t have to move to a different house or have to send their kids to different schools. This couple is very dedicated to government services, and they always wanted to feel free to do that work.

Often, we build ourselves into a certain income. We make choices that mean that we have to earn a certain amount of money. And if we made different choices we would feel much freer not to make that amount of money.

I thought what my friends did showed a lot of forethought. They realized, “Well, we’ve gotta construct our life so we won’t feel trapped in the private sector, because we don’t want to feel trapped. We want to feel like we can always make the other choice.”

Listen to the entire interview here.


This interview was recorded by J.D. Roth for Get Rich Slowly. By purchasing the course (starting at just $39), you can receive up to 17 additional interviews and complete transcriptions.


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