Most people know that Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." What they don't know is what he muttered just before sipping his final beverage: "The examined life is not a whole lot of laughs either."

Hemlock aside, Socrates was lucky; he missed the self-improvement explosion. No one told him How To:

Dress for Success; Be a Parent to Your Plant; Reshape Your Bod; Update Your Wife; Expand Your Mind, Soul, Family Room; Live Longer Than Anyone on the Block; Come Back Again After You're "Gone"; Macrame' Yourself a New Kitchen, Husband, Relationship.

Socrates also was able to avoid lectures on the perils of caffeine, nicotine, saccharine, cellulite, malaise, bad breath, lack of depth, angst, zits, varicose veins, chocolate and killer bees.

Most of us have tried all the advice -- for a while. I've attempted tapping, zapping, napping, crawling, jogging, screaming, yoga-ing, aerobic-ing my way to perfection. But just as soon as one part gets "fixed" (How to Use Seven Shades of Make-Up to Create the Illusion of the Perfect Nose) another How-To article surfaces requiring additional focus on yet another imperfection (Will You Be Ready for Sex When You're 102?).


We poor beleaguered slobs need fewer make-over, improve, purge, restructure, detonate-your-own-self articles and more from the "if-it-looks-half-way-decent-and-works-most-of-the-time--don't-fix-it" school.

The only How-To articles I want to read are those that require zip effort to carry out. Such as: How to Find Out If You Have a Pina-Colada Deficiency

You may be suffering already from the dreaded P-C deficiency even as you read this. Primary symptoms: a craving for pineapple swimming in a cloying coconut syrup, dizziness when looking at travel ads, an overwhelming desire to wear brightly colored shirts decorated with parrot motif. What You Should Know About The New Anti-Aging, No-Wrinkle, Flat-Stomach Cre me

A. It doesn't work and you can't afford it.

B. You can't afford it and it doesn't work. How to Be An Imperfect Hostess

Tired of whirling an unending stream of visitors around malls, monuments and museums? Try the following:

1. Move to a depressed area. If you're already living in a depressed area you should be visiting them.

2. Affect amnesia. "Uncle who?" "Mother who?"

3. Converse with them in Kurdish. This should speed them on their way earlier than planned. Of course, if they are Kurds you will only encourage them. How to Have a Boring Sex Life

Don't be pushed around. The truth is out -- you can insist upon and attain a boring sex life by practicing the following:

1. Use the words "communicate" and "relationship" and "I see where you're coming from" as often as possible.

2. Never say, "I have a headache." Say instead, "I'd rather watch 'The Brady Bunch' reruns."

How to Have the Messiest House on the Block

Mary W. tells how she hasn't vacuumed or washed windows in over a year. "Wash them?" she wheezes, "I can't even find them."

Mrs. W.'s children are all teen-age surgeons and her husband, a ringer for Richard Gere, adores her. How to Achieve Shallowness In Only 24 Hours

If you devour Kant, know how to spell Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, think Modern American Usage is a good read, you may be suffering from too much depth. Take these steps immediately:

1. Sit through three Sylvester Stallone movies: the same one twice, or two different ones. If they begin to make sense, you're on your way.

2. Talk all the time about why you've given up sugar, cigarettes, coffee, meat.

3. Try to inject "okay" or "hopefully" into your conversation as many times as possible. "I can, okay, hopefully relate to that." How to Stop Cooking and Still Enjoy Exciting Meals Every Night

Says Fiona Z., a not unattractive home-wrecker, "I always try to get someone else's husband to take me out to dinner."

And finally, the "How-To" that has been appearing and reappearing since the Ice Age when Cro-Magnon man kvetched about meeting the monthly nut on a two-bedroom, no-view cave: How to Beat the High Cost Of Inflation

The truth for the first time. You won't do it by learning 400 ways to serve hamburger or cutting copious clumps of coupons. Here it is:

Write a How-To Book

The penalty should be the same as that for robbing a bank.

In the meantime, consider this last article -- the one you'll never see: How to Accept the Fact That You May Already Know How To . . . but Just Don't Feel Like It.

Patricia Harrison is president of Capital Press Women.