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Californians are happy folk.

This will come as no surprise to other Americans who buy the image of palm trees, eternal summer, a surf board on every car top and a Bo Derek or Michael Douglas on every beach towel.

But the image is supported by the arbiters of public-opinion analysis. Pollster Mervin Field surveyed 1,008 Californians last month and discovered that 89% of them classified themselves--all things considered--either as “very happy” or “pretty happy.” Only 11% said that they weren’t too happy. Just three years ago 22% declared themselves as not too happy.

But, alas for myths, we find again that Californians are not unique. A National Opinion Research Center survey last year came up with almost identical figures for the population as a whole, except that more Californians described them-selves as “very happy” than in the national survey--35% to 29%. But Americans, on the whole, seemed to be happier in their marriages.

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The national poll also found that 48% thought life pretty exciting, 46% viewed it as pretty routine and 6% thought it just plain dull. Life was more exciting to the young, the better-educated, the wealthier and white people. The elderly, the poor, the uneducated and blacks tended to consider their lives routine or dull.

These poll results are mildly fascinating, but what they mean is unclear. It is impossible to quantify the variables that distinguish one person’s happiness from another’s--those mystical references to “all things considered.” But at least those polled seemed relatively certain of their responses. This was one poll in which there was no category labeled “Don’t Know.”


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