I just finished reading an article on Social Inequalities in Happiness in the US, 1972-2004: An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis, which was just published in the April 2008 American Sociological Review.
It was very interesting as one of the most rigorous explorations of happiness across the life course and over time.
Essentially the findings are that the biggest determinants of happiness are being married and in excellent health. They find that the chances of being "very happy" increase about 5 percent per year across the life span, suggesting that as we mature we tend to become happier. They suggest this is due to smaller differentials in older people between achievement and aspiration levels. Being white, wealthy, retired, highly educated, religious and having no children are all associated with higher happiness levels.
If you want a copy of the paper, just let me know and I can email it.
Sorry Eric, they didn't have a variable for Vipassana meditation practitioner or not. :)
Here is the abstract:
This study conducts a systematic age, period, and cohort analysis that provides new evidence of the dynamics of, and heterogeneity in, subjective well-being across the life course and over time in the United States. I use recently developed methodologies of hierarchical age-period-cohort models, and the longest available population data series on happiness from the General Social Survey, 1972 to 2004. I find distinct life-course patterns, time trends, and birth cohort changes in happiness. The age effects are strong and indicate increases in happiness over the life course. Period effects show first decreasing and then increasing trends in happiness. Baby-boomer cohorts report lower levels of happiness, suggesting the influence of early life conditions and formative experiences. I also find substantial life-course and period variations in social disparities in happiness. The results show convergences in sex, race, and educational gaps in happiness with age, which can largely be attributed to differential exposure to various social conditions important to happiness, such as marital status and health. Sex and race inequalities in happiness declined in the long term over the past 30 years. During the most recent decade, however, the net sex difference disappeared while the racial gap in happiness remained substantial.