Still, two brutal bear markets this decade have taken an emotional toll on investors such as George Mendoza, 50. The TV animation producer from Altadena has stayed in the stock market but has shifted to more conservative holdings. He's also lost some of his faith that his stock portfolio could finance his retirement.
"It's like going out with a girl and she cheats on you," Mendoza said. "My faith and trust in the stock market has been really shaken to the core."
The Dow first crossed 10,000 in March 1999 before the popping of the Internet-stock bubble prompted a bruising bear market early this decade.
Even though the Dow is up a spectacular 53% from the 12-year low it reached in March, the index must rise 41% from its current level just to match its October 2007 record high.
"In 1999, we thought this was the beginning of a rocket ship riding to Dow 20,000," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co. in New York. "This time around, we're hitting it because we've moved away from the edge of the abyss."
But fear of that abyss has kept some people from benefiting from the rally. Although big investors such as hedge funds have generally poured money into stocks, individual investors have yanked a net $43.9 billion out of stock mutual funds in the first eight months of this year while boosting their holdings in more-stable bond funds.
Those who have missed this year's bull run could be grateful for their conservatism if stocks resume their decline. And just as a housing bubble developed when individuals crowded in after the bursting of the 1990s Internet-stock mania, some experts fear that the rush into bonds could lead to a new bubble.
People who shook off this decade's first bear market, in 2000-02, say they feel greater stress from the cumulative effect of the back-to-back downturns because they're now a decade closer to needing the money in retirement.
"Now it's 10 years later and I'm right back where I started," said David Jankowski, a 48-year-old software-engineer manager from Carlsbad.
Some market watchers contend that the economy and the stock market will come under pressure as government stimulus efforts subside. Others say the market can climb higher this year thanks to enthusiasm over earnings and a continuing rush into the market by institutional investors who missed the early phase of the rally.
Crossing above 10,000 so decisively could fuel investor confidence, Hogan said.
"It has a lot more psychological benefit this time around," he said. "It's a milestone that reminds us that both the market and the economy have gotten better. If you'd have asked me back in March if I thought we would get back to 10,000 this year, I would have looked at you as if you had antlers."