The Best Ways to Get the Most Out of 2009

A simple change here or there can make a major difference in the shape of your year.

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On a freezing November morning in Chicago, Megan Mason puts on leggings, several polyester tops and a fleece, a windbreaker, four pairs of gloves, and silk sock liners. She ties a bandana over her head, dons earmuffs, snaps on a helmet, safety-pins a scarf into a cocoon around her head, and gets on her bright green Schwinn for a 6½-mile ride to work.

Surely anyone who goes through all that must be a die-hard biker, right? Not quite. Mason just recently switched to bicycle commuting, as did thousands of others in 2008, aka the year of $4-a-gallon gasoline. But Mason found the benefits of this change to be much more valuable than merely saving money. "I explore areas I don't usually see," says Mason, who stays within bike lanes for much of her commute. "I hop off and do errands."

Small changes such as Mason's that can make big difference for your health, finances, and overall well-being get a closer look in U.S.News & World Report's "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009" issue. The ideas, drawn from the news of 2008 and anticipated events of 2009, range from simple suggestions (take more naps, based on a recent study that found 40 winks to be a better pick-me-up than caffeine) to bigger challenges (start your own nonprofit, a sector that has grown 30 percent in the past decade).

A number of suggestions offer guidance in these uncertain economic times. Want to improve your job security? Try to make more friends in the office. "It's much more difficult to fire someone that you feel like you have an understanding of who they are as a person," says Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job. Don't know if that new home is really the right fit for you? Ask your real estate agent to let you spend the night there. "As much as it accentuates the positives, [a real estate sleepover] can also accentuate the negatives," says Pat Skiffington, a real estate agent in Orlando who has arranged two such sleepovers. And you can improve both your finances and your health by taking advantage of your company's wellness program. Many such plans pay employees for good habits. "I've saved a lot of money. I think it's great," Irene Gernon, a PepsiCo employee, says of her company's programs. Formerly a three-pack-a-day smoker, Gernon has been smoke free for a year and earned about $500 from PepsiCo for kicking the habit and staying healthy.

If you're more in the mood for a celebration, 2009 offers a number of noteworthy anniversaries. Both Civil War President Abraham Lincoln and author of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe reach their bicentennial birthdays (February 12 and January 19, respectively). On Jan. 3, 2009, Alaska—the Last Frontier that was in the news of 2008 so much because of Gov. Sarah Palin's vice presidential bid—will commemorate its 50th anniversary of becoming the 49th state. And 1959 also was the year that Miles Davis and his band recorded Kind of Blue, often praised as the greatest jazz album of all time. For different musical tastes, the Beatles gave their last public performance—the legendary rooftop concert on London's Savile Row—40 years ago.