Changing the Image of Success

Posted July 25, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

Stay with me for a moment while we complete a visualization exercise. Close your eyes (okay, I mean, don’t close your eyes because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read this…but go with me here). Picture in your mind’s eye a person (man or woman) a person who for you looks quintessentially successful. What are they wearing? What kind of job do they have? How much money do they make?

Focus hard on that third question – when you picture someone who is successful, what kind of salary do you assume they make? If you’re anything like most Americans, the number that probably popped into your head is somewhere in the 1% range, right? Maybe you thought $100,000, or maybe you thought $300,000. But the truth is, when we think about successful people, we think about big dollars.

So here’s another big question – does being “successful” in the kind of definition we just used also mean being happy? Because, it seems happiness is in a much lower salary – somewhere around $75,000. In the New York Times’ recent article “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy.” they found:

The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

We, as Americans, associate success and ultimately then happiness with making at least $75,000 per year. And upon hearing this, I feel the need to ask – if we’re happiest when we reach $75,000, is the image of success in this country truly accurate? When we equate millionaires and multimillionaires with happiness and success, are we lying to ourselves and setting us up for failure? Would we be happier if we worked hard to get and stay at that happiness level of $75,000?

What do you think? Is $75,000 the magic number? Or are you looking to get even higher to get happy?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."