Americans Reveal the No. 1 Factor for a Fulfilling Life (and It’s Not Money)

Samantha Miller

A new Pew Research study reveals that most Americans believe enjoying your career is far more important for a fulfilling life than having a lot of money.

The survey asked respondents to rate how important various factors are to living a fulfilled life. An overwhelming 71% said having a enjoyable job or career is “extremely important” – far above any other factor. In contrast, only 24% said having a lot of money is extremely important for fulfillment.

These results indicate a shift in values and priorities for many Americans. Previous generations tended to focus on accumulating wealth and possessions as the key to a good life. But today, meaning and purpose in one’s work seems to be valued more highly.

Young Adults Still Value Money

While money was not a top priority overall, the survey did find some demographic differences. Young adults ages 18-29 were more likely to say money is very important to fulfillment – 35% said so, compared to just 13% of seniors ages 65+.

This gap may reflect the financial challenges many young people face today – including student loan debt, housing costs, and job instability. With their careers just beginning, a good paycheck likely feels more urgent for fulfillment.

But the survey shows that money becomes less of a priority as we age. The older we get, the more we seem to realize it’s relationships and meaningful work, not wealth, that truly enrich life.

The Magic $100k Income

Even if it’s not the key to fulfillment, money certainly contributes by providing security and options. When asked how much annual income they would need to be comfortable, most Americans said at least $100,000.

In a recent CNBC survey, three-quarters of respondents said a six-figure salary is required for comfort today. Many cited the high cost of real estate, healthcare, childcare, and other essential expenses.

While it may not guarantee happiness, an income over $100k would ease financial stress for many families struggling to make ends meet. Some argue this level of pay should be the new middle-class benchmark.

But Can Money Really Buy Happiness?

While money can certainly impact quality of life, research suggests it has little bearing on emotional fulfillment. An iconic 75-year Harvard study found our relationships and social connections are the biggest predictor of happiness and life satisfaction.

Other studies confirm that increased wealth only improves happiness for those already content. For the dissatisfied, more money does not noticeably lift mood or outlook.

This suggests a “happiness threshold” where financial security enables a good life, but excess wealth no longer boosts fulfillment. Most Americans seem to recognize this truth: Beyond the ability to afford basics like healthcare and housing, money is not a key to inner fulfillment.

Read More: The Warren Buffett Way: 10 Must-Know Rules for Wealth Preservation

Living a Rich Life on Any Budget

Self-made millionaires agree that fulfillment stems from meaningful work, relationships, and lifestyles – not dollar amounts. While money can enable these goals, it is not the end in itself.

Best-selling author Ramit Sethi encourages people to define a “rich life” based on their values, then craft a budget to support this vision. Whether it requires six figures or modest means, aligning spending with priorities is what counts.

Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran echoes this sentiment: “There are as many miserable rich people as miserable poor people. Money has nothing to do with being happier.”

For a fulfilling life, the consensus seems to be: Do work you love, surround yourself with people who matter, and use money as a tool to follow your purpose. Remember that richness comes in many forms – not just financial.

Key Takeaways:

  • In a Pew survey, 71% of Americans said enjoying your career is extremely important for a fulfilling life. Just 24% said the same about having lots of money.
  • Young adults ages 18-29 value money more than older generations. But with age, money becomes much less important for fulfillment.
  • Most Americans say an income over $100k is needed to be comfortable today, but extra wealth does not necessarily increase happiness.
  • Research confirms relationships and meaningful work, not wealth, are the real keys to a satisfying life.
  • Experts say living a “rich life” is about aligning your budget with your values. Money itself should not be the end goal.
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Samantha Miller is a business and finance journalist with over 10 years of experience covering the latest news and trends shaping the corporate landscape. She began her career at The Wall Street Journal, where she reported on major companies and industry developments. Now, Samantha serve as a senior business writer for, profiling influential executives and providing in-depth analysis on business and financial topics.
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