Fifty Areas Where You Fall Short

U.S. News brings us a list that feels like what might happen if one's personal insecurities were handed to a newsroom of reporters to pick apart.

The winter holidays are a good time for reflection — a moment of reprieve to think back on the past year and to look forward to the one ahead. For some of us, that means quiet moments of deep and profound soul-searching. For the rest of us, it means waiting around in airports and train stations and thumbing through year-in-review issues of glossy magazines.

Enter the three wise men of American newsweeklies: Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Each year these magi of the newsstand cast off the shackles of the weekly format and come bearing gifts of insight and reflection collected from the entire year.

This year, we found U.S. News particularly gracious. Here we were, desperately in need of a new year’s resolution, and U.S. News came through with more than just a single recommendation. They offered 50.

The special double issue, “50 Ways To Improve Your Life in 2006,” is a self-improvement bonanza. The recommendations are broken down into the five essential categories of human existence: body, mind, home, spirit, and pocketbook. The suggestions range from the familiar (floss more!) to the timely (study Chinese!) to the nominally counterintuitive (play more video games!) to the pedantic (don’t lie!) to the stupefying (know the difference between aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen!) to the you-can’t-be-serious (invest in porcelain vases!).

Collectively, the list induces a kind of out-of-body experience — like witnessing what might happen if your own personal insecurities were handed to an entire newsroom of national correspondents to pick apart. Suddenly that little nagging voice in your head that says “maybe I should be eating better” is barking out orders to a team of investigative reporters — I want somebody on top of the Omega 3 craze. Now!

The results are at times laughable, at times cringe-worthy and at times illuminating.

At one point, for instance, the editors touch upon an insecurity that had been nagging at us since we first picked up the magazine — specifically, the notion that we should improve our reading selection.

The text: “Dive into a Life Changing Book.” The subtext: Slowly step away from the newsweekly.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.