Village Matters: Why aren’t we the happiest place?


By Ann Christoph

By Ann Christoph

We’re not even in the top 14 happiest places nationwide, according to a University of Vermont study that correlated cities across the country with the numbers of positive and negative words in millions of tweets.

San Clemente is among California’s seven happiest cities, but not Laguna Beach.  What does San Clemente have that we don’t?

Obviously fewer complaints.

Just when I was enjoying my summer I hear,  “This summer has been too cold and gloomy.”  Or “ the traffic is impossible. You can’t find a place to park.”  “There are too many restaurants and galleries and too many tourists.”

Look around us! Laguna is beautiful even in the gloom. A moody walk on the beach, cool salt spray, seeing the progression of coves down coast, each layer a little more obscured by the mist. These views are the subjects of priceless paintings.  The sun peaks out and glows, transforming grays to bright poster colors. The change, the contrast, the memories of what came before and after–these are experiences that can be unforgettable.

Traffic and parking problems happen every summer.  As I read the newspapers from decades ago, the same comments appear.  We cope. If going north is too difficult, we go to Crown Valley.  Or we devise our secret routes through town. Or experience our town with happy riders on the trolley. Where else are free rides offered?

I too remember the days before there were so many businesses focused on tourism, going downtown to have my toaster repaired by Klass Electric. It came back with a piece of toast in it—just to show how successful the repair had been. Marriner’s stationery had supplies from every era—even a replacement point for an antique pen I was restoring.  Peacock Insurance, Sprouse Reitz, McCalla Pharmacy…together these all contributed to a traditional downtown for our needs. They’re gone, but we still have Bushard’s Pharmacy, Coast Hardware, Live Wire Cleaners, Whole Foods Market where Acords used to be, Factotum shoe repair, banks, photo and copy shops, clothing, the post office… If we use them and appreciate them, they’ll be here for a long time to come, and maybe more of the same will be added.  If we get discouraged and stay away from the downtown, the tourist-oriented businesses will only become more dominant.

Then listening to the City Council last week I heard a phrase from a resident that explains another aspect of our community unhappiness.  “I think we are entitled…”

This contrasts with a little scene that played out in my neighborhood recently.  There was the couple from down the street sweeping away in front of their downhill neighbor’s house.  “Cleaning the whole street?”  I queried.  “Well, we know that the debris from in front of our house just ends up in front of Marie’s driveway,” he explained, “So every once in awhile we sweep it up.”  They were happy.


Sometimes a theme just keeps recurring with everything I hear. On her advice program on KX 93.5, Laura Doyle theorized that going to a marriage counselor to complain about your spouse week after week only intensifies the complaints and makes the problems grow. Some of that happens with us as we complain and complain about our city.

On “Prairie Home Companion” last week Garrison Keillor philosophized, “Life is not here to satisfy us.”

It is our privilege is to be here.  Happiness comes with an attitude that our entitlement is to leave Laguna better than we found it.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph served on the City Council.






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