Best 60K gig?
April 22, 2010 7:55 PM   Subscribe

In this TED Talk, Daniel Kahneman says that happiness increases with salary up to $60,000 a year, and then above that its a flat line. What is the best $60K job I can get?

"Best" defined as some combination of the following: Easiest to get into. Easiest to do. Least stress, most free time, most rewarding, etc.
posted by shotgunbooty to Work & Money (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think any rewarding job is particularly "easy to do". I think it would be hard to derive any sense of satisfaction from something that takes extremely little effort to do. That said, my mom is a special education instructor and she loves her job. It's not for everyone, of course, but I think any sort of teaching gig, when taken seriously, can be extremely rewarding.

That said, I'm a high school student and I've had terrible teachers. The kind of teachers that you can't see going home and saying "Wow, I sure helped these kids today." But I will remember the amazing teachers I've had for the rest of my life. These teachers have stayed until 6 PM, making sure those who wanted help received it, and they truly cared about us. Not just whether we understood the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus or the concept of DNA replication - but whether we were working to the best of our ability. I know this sort of teacher must go home and feel satisfied. They worked hard, and they deserved to feel a certain level of reward.
posted by makethemost at 8:06 PM on April 22, 2010

I don't have specific recommendations, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics has this page with the average yearly earnings for 100s of occupations. Each occupation has a link to its own page with an overview of what type of work it is, education required, average hours per week, etc.
posted by frobozz at 8:15 PM on April 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

We'll need more information about your personality and parameters to answer this. Because for some people, the proper answer to this question would be "stripper".

What kind of things do you like? Repetitive things? Outdoor things? Working with people? Physical labor? Does it need to be "respectable"? Does it need to be legal?

But yeah, other than being a stripper or something equally dodgy, I can't think of anything that pays that well that is easy to get into and easy to do.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:15 PM on April 22, 2010

If you have the aptitude, you can make that much or more pretty "easily" as a programmer. Get a job in a big corporation or government and you won't be asked to work long hours for it.

(However, this premise, like 80% of what you hear in "TED talks," is utter nonsense dressed up with a couple of nifty graphs to sound vaguely intelligent.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:20 PM on April 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

High school athletics coach.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:32 PM on April 22, 2010

@cool papa bell - you're kidding, right?

Around here HS coaches make 3000 per season. Maybe 9k a year for a super stressful job if they coach three sports.
posted by jz at 8:36 PM on April 22, 2010

(However, this premise, like 80% of what you hear in "TED talks," is utter nonsense dressed up with a couple of nifty graphs to sound vaguely intelligent.)
This is pretty mistaken, really. It's definitely easy to misunderstand the role of TED and overblow things, but to say that there aren't people doing legitimately interesting things in a ton of fields is wrong.

What I would say is this: $60k is statistics, but that does not mean it is right for you. That's good money and you may well be happy, but some jobs pay more, some pay less. I would focus on figuring out the space of things you like, then intersect that with what you can make doing it, and see what comes from there.

But I would second programming. If you like it and are good at it, you can make a good, stable living.
posted by wooh at 9:02 PM on April 22, 2010

@cool papa bell - you're kidding, right?

Apart from volunteer assistants, every high school athletics coach in my town is also a teacher, but usually a teacher of "light" subjects, like P.E., health, driver's ed, resource room tutoring, etc. They get their athletics stipend on top of their seniority-based salary, which adheres to the same salary schedule as every other single-subject credentialed teacher in the district.

In other words, given the same seniority level, the tennis-coach-slash-Spanish-1 guy makes the same as the head of the math department.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2010

$60K is just a number. It's an average. In New York City, 60K is not 60K like it is in Pittsburgh. Not even close. The real message to take away is not "Find a $60K job," but this:

Money only matters up to a point. Once you meet some level - which will vary by person, by circumstance, etc - money does not matter and you're wasting your time chasing it. My "60K," right now, in this economy, in the city I live in, happens to be about 60K, but if I moved to Brooklyn tomorrow - not an insane idea, a lot of my friends already have and they're people I'd like to hang out with again - that number would probably be a lot higher. But it'd still exist; I seriously doubt that I'd actually get any additional happiness out of any income above ~$100K, even in NYC.

The real message is that you shouldn't chase money blindly; that money is only a means to an end.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:19 PM on April 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

You're probably not going to get any of the answers you were hoping for to your question because the correct answer varies wildly based on what your talents are and where your passions lead.

A 60K job that might be really easy and rewarding for you will be absolute hell for the next person and vice versa.

posted by 2oh1 at 9:52 PM on April 22, 2010

Do something that is somewhat lucrative, stable, and that you can learn to enjoy. I think the false premise that this 60K claim operates under is that everyone needs the same amount of money.
posted by candasartan at 10:02 PM on April 22, 2010

The important thing is not to have a 60k/yr job, but to feel above average within your group. If you hang out with a bunch of investment bankers in nyc, 60k can make you feel very small indeed, but if your peer group consists of artists in a rural area, 60k can make you feel like a king.
posted by sid at 10:14 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jobs that are easy to get into and easy to do will most likely leave you unchallenged and unfulfilled. Sure, you'll have your 60K to spend on whatever it is the average American spends their money on, but you'll be miserable in all kinds of other ways.
posted by halogen at 12:38 AM on April 23, 2010

Jobs that are easy to get into and easy to do will most likely leave you unchallenged and unfulfilled. Sure, you'll have your 60K to spend on whatever it is the average American spends their money on, but you'll be miserable in all kinds of other ways.

Ironically you will find that this assessment holds equally true for jobs that are difficult to get into. The real illusion is the presumption that jobs which require an advanced degree or offer prestige are somehow more intrinsically fulfilling. If you don't understand'll see what I mean when you get there...or go find some lawyers to talk to now.

As for programming. If you are using happiness as a metric on which to base your job hunt (a metric I think is probably just as good, if not better, than any other) then run far, far, far away from programming or any other job that requires you to sit in front of a computer monitor for 8 - 10 hours a day. Furthermore an 8 hour day in the life of a programmer is rare. You're looking more at 10-12 hours depending on where you work and who your clients are. If you are interested at all in your health and fitness then the programming culture is a toxic environment. That being said...the barriers to entry are fairly low when compared to pay rate. The compromise would be a freelance programmer if you must. I would also say likewise avoid graphic design or web work unless you are freelance. A staff position with regards to computers is no good unless you are a "computer geek" type.

I would suggest a non-sedentary job that allows you to interact with people on a regular basis with manageable hours. What you will lack in prestige with this sort of situation you will make up for in a work-life balance. Depending on where you are, state or federally funded museum positions offer this sort of lifestyle, but you likely won't make 60,000 off the bat, and that will likely be your pay ceiling unless you work your way to the top of the hierarchy, at which point you will take on more it isn't worth it.

Some top tier positions in the National Park system offer 60k a year, but these are tightly guarded positions and usually require forestry degrees. Might be worth a look.

The barriers to physical training are low...and you could reasonably make 60k a year as a freelance PT or even if you were operating through a gym. You'd have to keep on your hustle with regards to clients, but the money is about right if you keep a full roster.

Dive Instructor. Probably a bit less than 60k a year, and the up-front costs are high (dive master certification etc) but I can imagine few more fulfilling careers than that of a dive instructor. The fellow who certified me for basic dives left the corporate sector to become a dive master at a huge pay cut - but said he is the happiest he has ever been. Sounds good to me.

What sid said is spot on. The key is to be doing well with regards to your peer group, and to adjust your expectations with regards to prestige / influence / achievement. There are many studies that objectively detail these findings (see the research of Ed Deiner, Dan Gilbert, or Martin Seligmann).

By the way, if you do find that perfect job...let me know what it is!
posted by jnnla at 1:38 AM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

'Best' job could be a building trade: plumber, electrician, HVAC. Decent money, not too much worry to take home. Does require a bit of effort as anything does.

I think the idea is that money is really not that important to happiness, but you could probably use around 60K to be insulated from reasonable unhappiness due to health issues, etc.

If you want a job you can be disengaged from then I presume you have an artistic vocation or a really interesting hobby, because having long-term goals that you can work towards is very important to personal happiness.
posted by ovvl at 4:35 AM on April 23, 2010

I agree with the other posters above. This question has two fatal flaws. First, it assumes on face value that the average happiness of people making average (okay statistically above average) salaries is X. But that has very little to do with YOUR happiness, shotgunbooty. Second it assumes that jobs are equal, except what they pay in salary.

Don't be focused on finding a job with a salary at a certain level. And don't make a list of vague platitudes about jobs such as "most rewarding, easiest to do, and stuff like that." I mean, there are a ton of rewarding jobs at every pay level. But they're rewarding in different ways for different individuals. Make a list of what criteria matter to TO YOU. And get a job like that. A low stress job is great, but it doesn't always challenge (kinda by definition). And it usually pays less well than a stressful job. But please, don't start with a list of jobs and start crossing them off. Make a list of things you would like to DO each day and then figure out how to get someone to pay you to do them.
posted by zpousman at 5:06 AM on April 23, 2010

A low stress job is great, but it doesn't always challenge (kinda by definition).

I agree with everything else in your post, but this sentence is half-wrong. Although a low stress job, like any job, won't always challenge you, stress and challenge are not antonyms, they're independent criteria. To use some jobs I've had as an example: The challenging parts aren't very stressful, because each problem for which my solution is successful is an emotional reward, yet each solution that's unsuccessful typically reveals a more interesting problem. And the stressful parts aren't very challenging, they're just urgent, critical, finicky and tedious.
posted by roystgnr at 5:30 AM on April 23, 2010

Hey everyone thank you for your replies. I'm picking up what most of you are putting down.

I should have been clearer. I think the point of my question was to start something like a brainstorming session so I can become aware of jobs that I wouldn't have thought of pursuing.

So your points about what that seemingly arbitrary statistic really means (or doesn't mean) are well taken. So, how about just any job that pays 60K that doesn't suck?
posted by shotgunbooty at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2010

Just posting to say Tomorrowful seems to have it right. The talk is meant to illustrate that the marginal happiness derived from income is effectively zero after a certain point.

If you're bummed making $200k, you'll be bummed making $250k, $312.5k, etc. Money only obstructs happiness when you're lacking enough of it to make a basic living.
posted by achompas at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2010

I think it's a misinterpretation of the statistics.

The researcher determined that people who don't have enough money, and it turned out on average to mean "less than $60k a year" are not as happy as the rest... then, on average, there is no difference in happiness between someone who makes $60k and someone who makes $160k.

And remember, it's not a rule, it's an observation.

Not having enough money to eat and/or live the basic lifestyle you want to live will make you unhappy - that number, on average, is probably 60k.

The reason it flatlines afterwards is because, as research seems to show, if you give joe average a big salary bump and he goes from $60k a year to $150k a year, he won't be any happier. He'll trade up to a bigger house and bigger mortgage, buy more expensive clothes, go to better restaurants, trade up his cars, and still live paycheck to paycheck like everyone else. In other words, his financial habits won't change one bit. He will still face the same monetary worries as he did before.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:13 AM on April 23, 2010

Oh, well...I was a bit late answering!

Anyway my suggestion would be government. You're performing a civic duty, your basic needs (health, vacation, other personal issues) are accommodated, and there's room for entrepreneurial growth (to a point).
posted by achompas at 7:14 AM on April 23, 2010

Tomorrowful above has it right (hence all the favorites). In one of my undergrad business classes, job satisfaction was broken up into two classes of factors. Pay is a "hygiene factor" -- beyond a certain level of sufficiency, it becomes less of a motivator.

Would I like my current job twice as much if my salary suddenly doubled? Probably not. Would I like my current job twice as much if the proportions of my different roles/tasks changed in a particular way? Probably, even for the same pay.

Don't look for a $60K job, assuming it'll make you happy. Look for a job that you're interested in, that you want to learn to do well, that will help you grow in directions you want to go. Fulfillment is better for you than a full wallet.
posted by flexiblefine at 7:54 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP, AskMefi doesn't do brainstorming particularly well. You're hitting a sticking point with most answerers because this end of the site is geared more toward answerable questions. Even your refined question, how about just any job that pays 60K that doesn't suck? doesn't really have an answer, because what sucks for me might not suck for you.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:10 AM on April 23, 2010

Basically, you need enough money to cover your basics and a little extra for a bit of freedom -- to travel, to make upgrades and repairs to your house, to buy a nice gift for your spouse or children, to pursue a side hobby. One of the best things that an employer can do is to pay your employee adequately. Working someone at the top of their productivity for the least amount of money makes a person who is struggling in the workplace and out of the workplace. It adds stress that is counter productive. Most people today can certainly figure out how to get by on less than 60k so 60k is a sort of number that means you've covered your basics plus a little extra. Take away that stress and then you've got a job that is either fulfilling or not.

Many people will stay in an unfulfilling job if it pays a lot more. But, at the end of the day, the job is unfulfilling and you'll feel like you're wasting over half your life doing something that you do not enjoy regardless of the benefits of more consumer purchasing power. So, it seems the message there, is chase your happiness not the dollars but keep the dollars in mind. The "starving artist" trope isn't as sexy after you get tired of eating ramen and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. However, that doesn't mean that you have to abandon all your dreams to chase a career that is not "you."
posted by amanda at 8:10 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think the tactic that will give you the most luck is to first figure out your personal strengths and interests, and what careers would merge your abilities, personality, and interests in a fulfilling way.

If you just pay attention to your abilities and personality, you aren't likely to feel very fulfilled: imagine a lawyer who is intelligent and capable but just isn't that interested in practicing law -- they aren't that likely to be very happy in their work. Just following your interests without paying attention to your personality isn't the best way to go about things either: imagine an ebullient, extroverted, happy-go-lucky type who is in love with cell biology and pursues a research career. Their people-centric nature and minor inattention to detail is going to be a really poor fit in a research lab. And if you try to get a job that is beyond your capabilities, you aren't likely to do very well at it (e.g. I am a smallish woman and would make a terrible longshoreman or elephant wrangler), but getting a job that isn't challenging is only likely to make you happy if you enjoy monotonous busywork.

As for the $60k figure, nth-ing the idea that it's just an average. You need to figure out how much money YOU need, taking into account any debt you need to pay off, how much you need to afford a roof over your head and food to eat, and other things that are personally important to you (do you need a car? Do you feel personally fulfilled by exotic vacations? Do you want to have eleven kids and send them all to college?) Personally, I could be very happy making significantly less than $60k -- my needs are fairly modest and I prefer fairly simple pleasures (running, camping, the occasional race entry fee) to splashing out on a lot of fancy stuff.
posted by kataclysm at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

This question makes no sense. If happiness reaches an apex at 60k, then ANY job that pays 60k will be all you need, because otherwise the entire theory is disproved.
posted by spicynuts at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2010

Consider making more than $60k and saving any income above that level. It may not make you happier now, but when you're not eating Purina in retirement, you'll appreciate it. Don't count on Social Security. It's also nice to be able to afford unexpected things like serious illness, criminal defense attorneys, etc., which would be tricky on that income.
posted by jewzilla at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2010

@ spicynuts...

Research has indicated that happiness derived from money tends to level off at around 60K (although Ed Deiners research seems to suggest a number closer to 100K). This is not a "theory" it is a datapoint. It suggests correlation, not causality. There are many other factors that contribute to happiness and objective well being.

And yes, the question does make sense if you realize that sometimes people on metaFilter ask questions rather glibly. In this case the OP realizes that a 60K job seems to suggest several things - lower stress (than say a 100k job), regular hours, and a better work-life balance all while hopefully precluding the possibility of feeling money-related-unhappiness. The tradeoff, as many have noted, may be intellectual stimulation or prestige...which is why the OP is looking for the least sucky 60 K job.

I also heartily suggest a government position in the 60K range (if you can't be a dive instructor :) )
posted by jnnla at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2010

Here are some jobs that don't suck for some people. They might be right for you. They might pay 60K.

6th grade teacher
Interior Designer
Airline pilot
College admissions counselor
Nurse practitioner
General contractor
Sea captain

A lot of cool jobs will probably make less than 60K:

Preschool teacher
Boutique/recordshop/bookstore owner
Social worker
Custom furniture builder
Community college instructor
Dual-language interpreter
Camp counselor

A lot of cool, >60K jobs are well-nigh impossible to get:

National geographic photographer

I am interested in people who make more than 60K and like their jobs commenting in this thread, because so far no one has really answered the question except Cool Papa Bell.
posted by mai at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2010

You could study geology (3 years, at least in Australia) and get paid that much quite easily. You get to travel a lot (you like deserts, right?) and are often outdoors (you like heat, right?). You meet lots of people and have about a 50/50 mix of hands on physical work/desk job computer work (you like metafilter, right?).
posted by twirlypen at 8:16 PM on April 23, 2010

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