Is having more money important to make you happier? Let’s put it into perspective

Would knowing that you are among the TOP 1% earners in the world make you happy?

How much does one need to earn to be among the TOP 1% of the world?world

US$ 34,000 or about S$ 45,000 per year.

Only so little?


Don’t you feel much happier already?  After all, often it only depends on the perspective on life you take to feel grateful and happy!

Still have doubts that this could be true?

Source: World Bank economist Branko Milanovic “The Haves and the Have-Nots” (2010).  Ok, that is a bit old data.  But I reckon the figures have not shot up by too much since then.

Want some more?  Going down the distribution ladder may be just as surprising.  To be in the top half of the globe, you need to earn just US$1,225 a year.  Enter the top 10% with US$12,000 a year.  To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of US$70,000.


Now imagine someone who goes to ends of the earth to save and invest because they need to fund an expensive lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.  Then, decades later, they realize they don’t need much to be happy in life and want to cut way back.

Having more money than you need is a nice problem to have, but spending your life working like a slave to pay for stuff you no longer want can be a devastating realization.

Let’s check in with the age-experienced and listen:

In his book 30 Lessons for Living, gerontologist Karl Pillemer interviewed 1,000 elderly Americans and reported:

No one — not a single person out of a thousand — said that to be happy you should try to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.Happiness

No one — not a single person — said it’s important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do it’s real success.

No one — not a single person — said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power.

The natural reaction for young people who read that: “this has to be bull.”

The younger you are, the more likely you are to believe that more money is the key to happiness.

I am convinced that there’s a gap between what you think your goals are when you’re young and what you wish your goals were when you’re older.

Tell me, if you think I am wrong (the comment section is awaiting your thoughts) ….

If you tend to agree, however, why don’t you use this 1st of May to ponder the choice to STOP the humdrum of chasing after more and more money, power, status, or fame.  Take some time to reflect deeply as to whether this way of life is hurting you and your stakeholders, or if it is truly satisfying to you as an individual.

“He who knows he has enough is rich.” – Lao Tzu


Bonus: 13 minute video for the younger reader “The 3 Most Important Questions


  1. It is said that when someone asked Jack Ma as the richest man or 2nd richest in China, is he happy now?
    Of course you know the answer already.
    Man has a spiritual side too besides the physical.
    So how much money is enough for me and you?

  2. Money give you freedom to do the thing u want to do. If everyday cannot even get enough for just basic need, how to be happy?

    Till we are sufficient, I means sufficient, the rest are just rubbish. Talk cxxk, if you don’t mind my language.

    • Well, the question is how much is sufficient for you?
      I reckon here in Singapore 99% of the people do have the basic needs (food, shelter, access to health care, safety and security, WIFI).

  3. Hi Andy

    Sanity check, ministers paid > $100k a month and they are pegged at 70%? at the top x professions. This made them top 0.001%? I guess the statistics are telling us that developed countries have more money after averaging down by developing countries.

    Thanks for telling ne that my goals are in right direction. Sometimes, looking around me, I am the only person looking for time in my real life whereas others are looking for more money. Good that you are waving at the end of the rat race, while I slowly marched on.

    • “Waving at the end of the rat race” – nicely put. Do consider, however, that even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat. haha.

      Let’s call it journey instead of race, ok? Sounds much more pleasurable and allows for more happiness along the way. Because happiness is not a pursuit, it’s a practice. We don’t become happy by focusing on happiness, by pursuing it; we focus instead on what is true, what is good, what is right – and happiness follows.

  4. Silly investor

    Hi Andy,

    While I totally buy into money cannot buy peace and happiness, I find that statistic a load of rubbish and hence while I am a top 0.1% earner, I am none the happier or more sad.

    People who lived in rural China just need some
    Land and “not too corrupt local officials to survive”, pray tell me how people who are the top 50% earning of the globe survive/ not struggle in Singapore?

    Of course, there are people struggling in Indonesia, with uSD $1, but does that mean Singaporean earning s$100 a month in Singapore better off than them? Most prob Singaporeans are worse off in the case because is a purely capitalism with 100% capitalism in every corner of the economy.

    We need to stop thinking of money to be free from money. Our happiness of being top 1% will precisely be the pain to our pursuit of happiness. Vice versa, that someone else is worse off should not be the strength of “thankfulness”

    Happiness is based on thankfulness and gratefulness, and the thankfulness cannot be built from comparison, be it comparing with the lesser fortunate, instead it should be built from simple compassion.

    Rich people need our help at times too.

    Ok. I male chicken enough already lol

    • Hi SI,

      It’s a pleasure reading your comment.

      I agree and disagree.

      I do agree that the fundamentals of happiness include more important things than money like close relationships with other people, health, a chance to be creative, having control of your schedule and helping others. But then money can indeed “buy” happiness (ok, not peace). Have you read the book “Happy Money”? There are ways and means to get a bigger happiness bang for our buck. I described them briefly in this post titled “Money-can-not-buy-happiness-bias”.

      Another aspect is to consider the great enemy of human happiness: Hedonic Adaptation. We do grow accustomed to any new pleasure we obtain (among others more money) quite quickly. We can slow down that process by reminding ourselves that we might lose any of the things we currently enjoy. Looking beyond Singapore shores at how other people are coping can help in that respect.

  5. True!

    Lots of money will command the attention of a lot of people and even in the blogging sphere.

  6. Hi Andy,

    This is good statistics. The problem is always we are comparing to the person next to us when we forgets that the world is way larger than that and there are still many people out there who lead a poorer life than we do.

    Richness is when we can be selfless and truly extend help to people who really need the help.

    Of course to extend help to a larger pool of people, before that, we need to help ourself first by having enough not just financially but also wisdom and knowledge.

    • Hi Rolf,

      You got a point there.

      I guess one aspect why so many people appear to be consumed with earning a higher salary is perhaps that it’s not the material possessions they want, but the respect that comes along with it. When you’re flush with cash, you command the attention of a lot of people, which may be what many of us are really after.

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