America Wants to Know: The Issues & the Answers of the Eighties, compiled by Dr. George Gallup. New York: A & W Publish ers Inc., a Norback Book. 632 pp. $19 .95.
May I please have a word with you, Dr. Doris K. Campbell? You recall that the Gallup survey organization asked you one of the hundred questions that it found the American public thirsting to have answered: ''What contributes most to a happy life?'' And in the midst of your reply you said: ''It is possible one does not always realize when one is leading a happy life.''
Does this mean that happiness is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest? It makes a sound even though no one hears it? Or can anyone really be happy without knowing it?
At any rate, Dr. Campbell, your comment leaps out in a sampling of these more than 600 pages. It is an instance of how the unexpected bits catch a reader's attention in the midst of much conventional knowledge, with a sprinkling of opinions to the left and right of establishment views.
Also, whether one agrees or not with Dr. Campbell, who writes as a former professor of psychology at universities in Tennessee and the Philippines, she prompts a moment of self-examination, which not all books do these days. It might be called counting one's blessings. One looks up in wild surmise like that character in a Moliere play who suddenly discovered he had been speaking prose all his life: Come to think of it, folks, I do have a happy life.
It may say something about America that, in a land with just about everything , the Gallupers find people wondering how to define a happy life. In fact, the questions on Americans' minds are as much the point of this book as the answers from ''more than four hundred leading experts in their respective fields.'' The largest number of pages is devoted to physical and mental health, including specific diseases, birth control, hospital care, and sexual problems. Social issues, from crime to religion, come next. Government, technology, foreign affairs, and family life are among other topics.