In our mobile society, people often decide where they want to live for fairly frivolous reasons.

Thomas F. Bowman, a Long Island University education professor, confesses he was one of them. Back in the '60s, when college jobs were plentiful, he could have gone almost anywhere. He picked Huntington, N.Y., because that's where he could get the most pay, though it amounted to only about $500 more a year.

It wasn't a bad choice. But over the years, he has had to admit to one big problem he failed to consider at the time: "I need a warm climate. I just find winter in the New York area too long. I grew up in Alaska, and I guess I froze out at an early age."

Recession and a tight job situation for educators these days make it hard to just pack up and move, but Bowman, 44, has his eye on what he thinks--after serious research--is the ideal community for him: San Diego.

"Every time I go, I just feel I belong there. It's warm, and they're doing fine things culturally."

Bowman is the co-author and publisher (with two psychologist colleagues at C.W. Post College) of a guide to picking your next home, Finding Your Best Place To Live in America (Red Lion, 337 pages, $9.95). The authors emphasize the "Your" in the title:

"The best place for me," says Bowman, "might not be the best place for you." To which, co-author George A. Giuliani, 44, adds: "I look forward to a nice snowstorm. I've seen the whole country, and I have no problem coming back to New York."

With home mortgage rates high and the cost of an interstate move reaching into the thousands of dollars, it's important, the authors say, to make your choice of destination the right one.

One woman, an Irish-Catholic from Boston, told them she and her husband planned to retire soon to a small town in Alabama. They informed her that less than 2 percent of the population was Catholic, and that she would be hard put to find her accustomed choice of morning Masses. That quickly changed her mind. "We could never live there," she sighed.

The authors also contend that the place where people live dramatically affects their "happiness and success in life." Bowman, who has made a study of the sort of person who becomes an effective leader, is convinced that environment plays a big role. "A person can be a great success in one corporation and go up the road and fail in another."

And Giuliani, who has a private practice as a therapist, says patients who complain to him about "major emotional problems" may simply have been run ragged by the hassles of commuting two hours a day from Long Island to Manhattan.

Or: "They are safety-oriented and living in a high-crime area, or they are people who need a garden, and they are living on Fifth Avenue." Some people, the authors say, prefer a mellow and relatively serene life style; others crave "excitement, change, adventure, high stimulation and flirtation with danger."

New York-born Giuliani gets "a kick out of seeing 200 people watching a juggler on the sidewalk or 1 million people going to lunch at the same time."

To live in a place that is not right for you, the trio writes, "can be incredibly handicapping. No one should blindly trap himself into a situation which can be a lifelong sentence to mediocrity, boredom or limited opportunity."

The "dominant reason" for moving remains, of course, "chasing the buck," says Bowman, for higher pay, a better job or any job. Over a 5-year period, about 20 percent of the American population moves to another county or state. But increasingly "quality of life" is becoming a big factor.

The guide includes 60 charts of comparative information about 80 U.S. cities, divided into five basic categories: economics (job potential, cost of living); weather (snowfall, sunny days); population (size, predominant religion); risks and hazards (earthquakes, crime), and quality of life (museums, concerts).

There's at least one city for every state except Iowa, an inadvertent omission the authors plan to correct in the next issue.

A 90-question exam is geared to helping readers determine which categories seem most important to them. If a disagreeable climate turns you off, you would be well to check a community's sweat factor. People in Washington and New York think their summer humidity is high, says Bowman, "but they haven't been to Miami and Houston."

If cost of living is a big factor, you will probably want to skip Boston, he says. It ranks near the top, yet pays less than the national average in salaries. Houston is a better value in this category: Income is well above average and the cost of living is substantially lower.

Los Angeles is notorious for its air pollution, but Phoenix also has a problem in that area. The agricultural city of Fresno, Calif., ranks lowest in water pollutants, Houston the highest among water supplies sampled.

But before you make up your mind to depart, you might want to take another look around your present community. Over the years, a lot of ties are made that are hard to break. "Even the small things," says Bowman, "like where to get your car fixed."