People who make more than $75,000 a year are far more likely than those who make $25,000 or less to say are "very satisfied" with their lives - 56 percent of the higher-income group compared with 24 percent of the lower-income group, according to Associated Press polling.
Money alone doesn't equal satisfaction, however. People who are married and have college degrees were more likely to be "very satisfied" than others who had equal incomes, the polling found.
"Money is not everything, but it allows you to do things many people can't always do," said Bob Russell, a 53-year-old businessman from Hockessin, Del. "We've been very fortunate as far as accumulating money."
He and his wife, who recently retired from her job at a bank, can pick the preferred schools for their children, hire professionals to provide services and get out of town whenever they want.
Despite uncertainty about the economy and fears of terrorism, about eight in 10 people said they are at least somewhat satisfied with their lives and four in 10 said they are very satisfied, according to polling done for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Whites were more likely than non-whites to say they are very satisfied, while Republicans were more inclined than Democrats to feel that way.
Public opinion specialist Robert Blendon, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said people with moderate incomes have seen their satisfaction decrease in recent years because of the stress of worrying about paying for things like health care and retirement.
Carly Sheffer, a 24-year-old store manager from Albuquerque, N.M., just started her freshman year in college after a five-year break. She said a college degree gives her a better opportunity to earn more money.
"Money plays a big part in making you happy," said the mother of two young children.
For 56-year-old Pat Pacak of Grove City, Ohio, carefully managing money is a big factor in her satisfaction.
"We save our money. We don't have credit card bills," she said.
But some people say they're satisfied just to have enough to live on.
"Some people seem to think the world owes them something," said Jean Kelley, a 63-year old retiree from Ozark, Ala. "We never felt that way."
One of her five grown children has Down syndrome and still lives with Kelley and her husband of 47 years, a retired military pilot.
But she doesn't view that as a hardship.
"We feel like we're truly blessed," she said. "With my other children, when I thought about them leaving home, I'd almost throw up. The good Lord sent me one that will stay with me."
For retiree Clifford Sturtevant of Savannah, Ga., his lifelong job with a company like Coca-Cola offered financial security but his family is the main factor he cites for being very satisfied.
He and his wife of 62 years raised two children "who never gave us a minute's worth of trouble." They thoroughly enjoy a relatively low key life in retirement.
"We both still get along good," said Sturtevant. "We eat out quite often. That ain't much, but it means a lot to us."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,001 adults was taken Aug. 16-18 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
By Will Lester