The Unexpected Ways a Big Raise Affects Your Happiness
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The Unexpected Ways a Big Raise Affects Your Happiness

Getting more money often leads to immediate satisfaction. The good feelings might not last.

By JOE PINSKER
Mon, Jan 15, 2024 9:03amGrey Clock 4 min

Up and down the income ladder, people say more money would make them happier. When they actually get it, that isn’t always the case.

Some people who have gotten big raises recently say the money hasn’t changed their day-to-day life or hasn’t provided them as much joy as the things in their life that have nothing to do with money. Others were hoping for a bigger raise or felt conflicted about making more money.

Jess Tapia, a 28-year-old accountant in Hoffman Estates, Ill., thought for years that $90,000 was a salary that would make her happy. When a raise of about $20,000 pushed her pay to that level last February, it did—at first.

To celebrate, Tapia booked a vacation to Germany the next month. The good vibes soon wore off.

“By the time I came back from that trip, it kind of fell flat for me because it was just back to normal, back to the routine,” she said.

The past few years have been good ones for workers seeking higher pay. Median year-over-year wage growth hit a recent peak of 6.7% in summer 2022, after mostly staying below 4% for more than a decade before 2021, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve. Many of those who switched jobs, or threatened to, made substantial salary gains.

And people with higher incomes do tend to be happier, many studies show. Research looking at lotteries and random cash giveaways indicates that additional money can make people happier for months or even years.

But moving up the income scale, it takes more money to generate the same good feelings, said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, an economics professor at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford who studies well-being. The proportion of the increase matters.

“If an employer moves somebody from $15,000 to $30,000, that will have an impact on people’s life satisfaction that is the equivalent of them moving somebody from, say, $60,000 to $120,000,” De Neve said.

More is more

A pay increase that takes someone from financially stressed to financially stable often leads to more happiness. At the low end of the earnings spectrum, a higher income is associated more with squashing negative feelings than producing positive ones, according to a 2021 paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Randeep Chauhan, a 30-year-old nurse in Ferndale, Wash., went from making about $45,000 in 2021 to $90,000 in 2022 after completing a one-year nursing program.

“Doubling my income didn’t double my happiness, but it came close,” he said.

For Chauhan, much of the happiness boost came from being able to stop worrying about being able to cover his family’s monthly bills. He said his blood pressure dropped to a healthy level after his change in pay, which he attributes largely to the drop-off in financial stress.

If you get a raise, don’t just spend it, said Neela Hummel, a financial planner and the co-CEO of Abacus Wealth Partners.

“The worst thing that can happen with a raise is that that money gets immediately folded into cash flow and a client doesn’t even notice it,” she said.

Many people also jump ahead to how nice a car or how big a house they could afford with a new paycheck. Instead, Hummel advises, take the raise as an opportunity to up your savings or pay down debt.

Chauhan said he has avoided lifestyle creep, putting money toward retirement savings and student loans instead of buying a new computer or phone. “There’s a weird rush in making money and not spending it,” he said.

Austin Benacquisto’s pay has rocketed upward over the past few years. The 29-year-old commercial debt broker in Atlanta made roughly $60,000 in 2019, $110,000 in 2020, $180,000 in 2021 and $325,000 in 2022, including bonuses.

His steps up to $110,000 and $180,000 felt better than the one up to $325,000, he said.

“The last 50,000 I made in 2022 just was for stuff in my house that I wanted,” he said.

Benacquisto’s pay fell to about $200,000 last year as his industry slowed down. The drop felt worse than the recent increases felt good, he said.

“This being the first decrease, it definitely stings,” he said.

The paycheck next door

People’s happiness with their pay is strongly tied to how it compares with the pay of others around them, say researchers who study compensation. Sometimes, those comparisons rankle.

A 30% raise made Ryan Powell less happy at work.

Powell, a 38-year-old finance director for a manufacturer in western North Carolina, received that pay bump in 2022. He had been hoping for more based on the salary information he had heard from recruiters, peers in the industry and his M.B.A. cohort.

The initial thrill of the raise lasted about three months, he said.

“The further I got into it, the more I was realising that I was anchored to the higher number,” he said.

Executives are more likely to leave their companies if their pay is low compared with other top bosses, according to a 2017 study in the journal Human Resource Management.

Comparisons matter closer to home, too. Living in an area where people tend to make more money than you is linked to being less happy, according to a 2005 paper in The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

One reason that Tapia, the accountant in Illinois, isn’t happier after her raises is that she feels guilt about making more money than her parents ever did. Her dad works in construction and landscaping.

“I work from home mostly, I’m comfortable and I’m always indoors. During summertime, he’s sometimes outside working 10 hours in 100-degree weather,” she said.

Tapia recently got another raise of roughly $10,000. She again booked a vacation to Europe but is hoping to extend her joy further this time.

“I’m starting to feel like this is going to plateau, so let me try and make the feeling last a little longer with this trip,” she said.



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Amid Geopolitical Concerns, Major Philanthropy Continues to Forge Ahead…Creatively
By Geoff Nudelman
Sat, Feb 24, 2024 3 min

Even amid two international conflicts and an upcoming U.S. presidential election, some philanthropic leaders are optimistic about the direction of overall giving through 2024.

Penta spoke with heads of several non-profits and leading philanthropists to gauge whether charitable giving will continue its reported slump from 2023 or rebound alongside renewed interest in various political and economic issues.

“Contrary to what some might expect, philanthropy has had resilience in these times,” says Stacy Huston, executive director of Sixdegrees.org, a youth empowerment non-profit based in Virginia founded by actor Kevin Bacon in 2007.

Huston’s view echoes recent data from the biennial Bank of America Study of Philanthropy published last year, which found that while affluent giving is largely down, the value of the average philanthropic gift is up 19%, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

The notion of what these gifts look like is changing, and is partially responsible for the growth. Philanthropy can be executed through more avenues than ever, whether through celebrity association, tech titans stewarding large endowments, or  athletes using their platforms to advocate for and create meaningful change.

“The industry and movement is creating new models, and you want to get it right,” says Scott Curran, CEO of Chicago-based Beyond Advisers. “No one should take their foot off the gas pedal.”

Curran spent a number of years with the Clinton Foundation in its infancy before leaving in 2016 to open his own consultancy, which focuses on philanthropy strategy at the highest levels. Curran and his team work with celebrities, athletes, multi-generational family foundations, and other affluent givers who need guidance in directing their philanthropic efforts. It’s a growing area of interest: Over half of affluent households with a net worth between US$5 million and US$20 million have, or are planning to establish, “some kind of giving vehicle” within the next three years, according to the Bank of America report.

Corporate philanthropy, rather than individual giving, is the cornerstone of Marcus Selig’s work as chief conservation officer at the National Forest Foundation, a Congressionally chartered non-profit based in Montana responsible for protecting millions of acres of public lands.

“Our outlook is business as usual,” he says, advising that giving may slow down, but not enough for the foundation to change course.

Factors such as political polarisation in the U.S. and the wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are pushing nonprofits to consider their niche, and how they might work with other groups, both on the corporate and philanthropic levels, Selig says.

“It leads to a little more sharing on the ground in what needs to be done,” he adds.

Steve Kaufer , founder of Massachusetts-headquartered e-commerce giving platform Give Freely and founder of TripAdvisor, says that the economy has a much bigger role in election years, as he looks to build and grow something that can act as a “counterbalance.”

“There’s a trend towards democratisation, and acting collectively can lead to greater impact,” he says.

Kaufer’s new platform hopes to leverage the everyday philanthropist through online shopping dollars to benefit major charity partners like UNICEF and charity:water, who earn funds as shoppers choose an organisation to benefit through an online clickthrough process.

“Whether a good year or bad year, e-commerce will continue to keep growing,” he says. “Nobody doubts that.”

Whether a legacy foundation, corporation or individual, the political landscape this year is requiring some to exercise caution as they consider what their own charitable actions might be and how it could be viewed more broadly. For the personal philanthropist, every move is now scrutinised more closely. On the nonprofit side, entities are exercising more due diligence to understand if a specific donor aligns with their mission and that there aren’t any underlying issues that could cause greater pushback.

“You have to be able to walk the walk,” Huston says. “For example, we’ve had to turn down very large donor checks from corporations because there’s a Reddit stream calling them out on their human rights practices.”

She adds that even a routine charity activation could now be aligned with a political party, and that adds complexities to how a higher-profile organisation like Six Degrees can activate, especially as the film Footloose turns 40 in 2024 (which Bacon starred in).

“A lot of organisations and states want to align themselves with this feel good moment, and we should be able to stand side by side with everyone, but we have to be aware,” she says.

Another topic attracting donor interest today is  mental health, an area that historically has been underfunded and under-resourced by philanthropy, according to Two Bridge partner Harris Schwartzberg, who has been closely linked to the mental health space for more than a decade.

Today, the issue for mental health nonprofits is less about resources and more about societal divisiveness and polarisation around the topic. There’s an “overwhelming demand” for solutions, but the space is in a “perfect storm” for the broader political issues to make things worse, Schwartzberg says.

In Curran’s opinion, the storms brewing are troublesome, but they are also creating new opportunities for corporate and personal giving. The  current state of philanthropy is one of “dynamic, expansive, and blurred lines,” meaning a careful blending of targeted giving combined with an understanding of the broader geopolitical landscape could lead to a successful overall philanthropic strategy.

“There are a lot of headlines that distract, but shouldn’t,” he says. “2024 needs more serious philanthropists than ever.”

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