This study examined the relative contribution of psychological and socioeconomic resources to explaining qualitative individual differences in life satisfaction development. We used growth mixture modeling and a cohort‐sequential design to investigate life satisfaction development from age 25 to 65, in a nationally representative panel (the SOEP). Eighty‐three percent of the participants experienced stability in life satisfaction. In a subgroup of individuals (10%) life satisfaction declined. This subgroup lived under less favorable economic conditions, and reported downward moves on an index of socioeconomic status. In another subgroup (7%) life satisfaction was low at age 25, and increased up to age 65. This group was also socioeconomically disadvantaged, but scored higher on adaptive personality traits and experienced upward social mobility. Generally, personality traits explained level differences in life satisfaction better than economic conditions. However, economic conditions explained non‐normative life satisfaction development better than generalized control beliefs and the Big Five traits.