The idea that money can't buy happiness has been disproved by science, at least up to a point. Experts say that happiness does increase with wealth, but the correlation peaks at earning $75,000 per year.
"The lower a person's annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don't report any greater degree of happiness," Time reported in 2010, citing a study from Princeton University conducted by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman.
However, a new analysis from Town & Country's Norman Vanamee contends that it takes more to achieve "optimal contentment." Much, much more.
Vanamee set out to determine how the amount that "allowed you to pursue your personal passions — join the board of a philanthropy, support the arts, avoid flying out of Newark ever again — but didn't make you question the intentions of friends and otherwise consume your life."
For this analysis, Vanamee created a model family: a wealthy couple with two teenage children living in New York City. They have vacation homes in the Caribbean and the Hamptons, send their kids to private schools, own a spacious apartment on Fifth Avenue, donate generously to charity and have acquired a pricey art collection. This couple also has help in the form of a maid, driver and chef.
What would that lavish, fulfilling, having-it-all lifestyle cost? $100 million, says Vanamee.
That's according to two wealth experts he interviewed for the story: Wendy Sarasohn, a real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens who has handled some of Manhattan's most expensive properties, and Richard Kirshenbaum, a columnist at the New York Observer and author of "Isn't That Rich? Life Among the 1%."
Others, however, argue that there isn't actually a number that can be nailed down.
"The number is less relevant than how you earned it and what you're doing with it," Robert Frank, host of CNBC's "Secret Lives of the Super Rich," told Town & Country.
Rachel Sherman, a professor of sociology at the New School and author of "Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence," agreed. "I think what my research shows is people can have exactly the same amount of money and feel totally different about whether it's enough for what they want to buy and enough to feel secure," she says.
It seems that, to a certain extent, money quells financial fears and allows for increased satisfaction in life. And while Town & Country's example highlights extreme wealth as a measure of happiness — the freedom to do whatever you please without the constraints of time or responsibilities — for many, happiness is measured quite differently. After all, at the end of the day, money can only do so much.
That's how Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett feels. Although Buffett is worth $78.4 billion and currently stands as the third richest man on earth, he says he could live on far less and still be content.
"I'm already happy. I would be happy with, you know — certainly with $100,000 a year, I could be very happy," Buffett said on PBS Newshour.
Although that's nearly twice as much as the median household income in the U.S., which recently rose to $59,039, it's significantly less than Buffett's actual net worth.
"I can buy anything, basically," Buffett says. "I have been on 400-foot yachts, and I have ... lived the life a little bit with people that have 10 homes and everything. And I live in the same house I bought in 1958.
"And if I could spend $100 million on a house that would make me a lot happier, I would do it. But, for me, that's the happiest house In the world. And it's because it's got memories, and people come back, and all that sort of thing."
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