The Earth Institute at Columbia University has released the first-ever World Happiness Report, which not surprisingly cites the work of a Los Angeles economist whose pioneering research into...yes, happiness! is gaining increasingly currency. Richard Easterlin is at the University of Southern California and is responsible for identifying the "Easterlin Paradox" (that's him, in a video produced by the very fine economics writer Olf Storbeck). Here's a good definition of what it is — ironically from a Boston.com piece that talks about how the paradox is being challenged by a new generation of economists:
On the one hand, data [studied by Easterlin] showed that making more money makes you happier; at the same time, comparisons amongst nations revealed that richer nations weren't necessarily happier than poorer ones. This paradox, Easterlin suggested, showed that we derive happiness from wealth only in a relative way. From the point of view of happiness, it doesn't matter whether we have one car and an apartment, or two cars and a McMansion -- what really matters is what our neighbors have.