The Pay Raise People Say They Need to Be Happy - Kanebridge News
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The Pay Raise People Say They Need to Be Happy

We frequently overestimate just how much happiness money buys

By JOE PINSKER
Tue, Nov 21, 2023 9:11amGrey Clock 3 min

People are often convinced their lives would improve if only they could climb a few rungs on the income ladder.

They are right, to an extent. Many studies have found a link between income and happiness, both in terms of day-to-day mood and longer-term life satisfaction. Having more money would help many people afford necessities, and on average, richer people report being happier.

Exactly how much more money do we think we need to be happy? A new survey from the financial-services company Empower put the question to about 2,000 people.

In the survey, most people said it would take a pretty significant pay bump to deliver contentment. The respondents, who had a median salary of $65,000 a year, said a median of $95,000 would make them happy and less stressed. The highest earners, with a median income of $250,000, gave a median response of $350,000.

Employers are planning on an average pay increase of 3.9% in 2024 for nonunion employees, according to a survey from the consulting firm Mercer. In the Empower survey, Americans said that to be happy, they would need almost a 50% raise.

Just how much happier a 3.9% or 50% raise would make any given person is hard to determine, researchers said.

One study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, found that people who randomly received $10,000 tended to get a happiness boost that lasted at least six months. (The $2 million given out in the study was provided by a wealthy couple, who the researchers estimated generated 225 times more happiness than if they had kept the money themselves.)

Another, from the Review of Economic Studies in 2020, looked at lottery winners in Sweden whose prizes were mostly between $100,000 and $500,000. They reported higher levels of satisfaction with their lives more than a decade after their windfall, compared with lottery players who won no prize or a small one.

The magnitude of a raise’s effect, though, might not be life-changing.

“The impact of money on happiness isn’t as large as people typically assume,” said Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of a book on money and happiness. “Happiness is determined by so many different factors that changing any one thing, it’s hard to have a huge impact.”

Happiness for sale

About seven in 10 respondents in the Empower survey said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement: “Having more money would solve most of my problems.” Similar proportions of people in each income bracket felt that way, including those with salaries of $200,000 or more.

Dunn said that many people might be happier if they focus on the best ways to use the money they have, rather than on getting more of it.

“That’s something that we know makes a difference and that people have control over in the immediate term,” she said.

Dunn said many people over emphasise money, relative to other variables, as a path to contentment. Her research indicates that those who give priority to time over money tend to be happier in life.

A little bit more

And as soon as someone does reach a new pay tier, they often start focusing on the next one as their target recalibrates.

“They might imagine that once they get the higher salary, then that’ll be enough,” said Matt Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who studies the causes of happiness. “In reality, once they get there, they’ll probably want a little bit more.”

Even very wealthy people think like this. A 2018 study asked millionaires to rate their happiness on a scale from one to 10 and, if they didn’t say 10, predict how much money they would need to move one point higher. Slightly over half of those with a net worth of $10 million or more said their wealth would need to increase by at least 50%.

“It’s part of what makes humans amazing,” said Killingsworth of the impulse to continue advancing. “But it also means we rarely look at an aspect of our life and say, ‘That’s absolutely perfect.’”



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”