A new poll finds that contrary to popular belief, money really can buy happiness. The survey even put an exact price tag on it: $50,000.

Researchers at Marist Institute for Public Opinion surveyed 1,200 people and asked them to rate their level of satisfaction in areas of their lives like family, neighborhood safety, housing situation, health, friends, finances and community involvement. Those people were then asked to state their annual household income.

Turns out a yearly salary of $50,000 represented a significant tipping point in determining happiness and personal satisfaction. Those with lower incomes were more likely to say the best was behind them and less likely to say the best was yet to come. They were also more pessimistic about retiring and financing any possible health problems.

Regardless of income level, the survey found that in the past year, more than half of Americans have experienced a financial hardship and cut back on spending. Another quarter considered delaying retirement, almost a third had trouble paying for medical care or prescription drugs, and 14 percent struggled to meet their mortgage payments.

“Money may not directly buy happiness, but our study clearly shows that it is an important factor in satisfaction with quality of life,” said Paul Hogan, chairman and founder of Home Instead Senior Care, which commissioned the survey. “The important take-away is not only the extent to which income shapes perspective on life but how difficult the recent economic downturn has been for many.”

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