What were the happiest stories to hit the newsstands this year? There’s no one right answer, but one thing is for certain: There’s a lot more to choose from than you think.
Yes, good news was everywhere in 2018. You just had to look for it.
Now we’re not denying all the bad stuff that’s happened this year. Losses, setbacks, and unspeakable tragedies struck hearts and headlines across the world. It’s important that we acknowledge and act upon those events.
At the same time though, let’s try not to get trapped too deeply in negativity bias—aka, the tendency to remember and fixate more on the bad things that happen. (We all do it—blame the human brain for that one). Taking a moment to remember some of the positives can help to balance things out, not to mention boost your mood and get you feeling more grateful.
8 of the Happiest Stories That Happened This Year
So let’s jump in and take a look at eight of the happiest stories that had us brimming with optimism this year.
1. Science finally agreed that hugs are awesome
Our list of happiest stories this year starts with a hug. And what’s happier than a hug? Apparently, not much. A heartfelt hug can warm you from the inside out, comfort you, make you feel safe and secure. We may know all this innately, but this year science backed it up with research: Hugs really do have healing properties.
A study published in October tracked the activities, moods, and physical interactions of more than 400 people over the course of two weeks. What did they find? That hugs make people feel better, especially if they’re struggling with the people and relationships in their lives. Even better news? This was true for men and women, regardless of age, marital status, or race.
In other words, a big warm hug is kinda like a bandaid for the soul. So you know what to do. Reach out (literally) and offer someone a hug. Friend, loved one, stranger—just as long as it’s consensual, you’ll be doing something good…for both of you.
2. The four-day work week became a thing
Well, okay, it’s not a widely adopted thing…yet. But it could be. One New Zealand firm trialed four days of work (while still paying for five) and found that employees were not only happier, they also had a boost in productivity.
The staff self-reported a 24 percent uptick in their work-life balance. And because they had more downtime, they had more energy and improved focus at work.
So is working a 32-hour week the future for everyone? Not necessarily. But if more businesses start to take the right approach to improve productivity, better breaks and shorter meetings will be something we can all look forward to.
3. Statistics showed that more Americans are finding their Zen
One of the happiest stories of the year is about harnessing the power of mindfulness, which we already know comes with a bucketload of scientifically-backed benefits. So just imagine if more people practiced it. Wouldn’t that mean less stress and anxiety in the world and more empathy and compassion?
More Americans are meditating than ever before, so we’re optimistic that will be the outcome. The growing number of meditators is thought to be helped along by meditation apps and mindfulness programs in workplaces and schools.
Simultaneously, the news headlines about the benefits of meditation continue to roll in. In 2018 alone, studies suggested that meditation can help ease PTSD, reduce anxiety, boost cardiovascular health, and even improve your sex life.
Yes, you read that right! Now go forth and join the growing movement toward a more mindful America.
4. Our chocolate habit was justified by research
You’ve heard about the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate. But this year, for the first time, EEG testing was used on humans to find out what happens in the brain when we eat it.
The results? All good news, friends. Unwrap that candy bar (just make it at least 70 percent cacao), because eating dark chocolate was found to bring stress levels down, boost memory and mood, cut down inflammation, and improve your immunity.
We didn’t need to stick electrodes on our heads to tell you chocolate makes us feel good. But hey, we’re nonetheless glad that some selfless scientists did the research.
5. The secret to willpower was revealed
Want to have an endless supply of willpower? One of this year’s happiest stories revealed a key factor in how to get it: You simply have to believe it’s yours.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that when we believe willpower is limited, we act as if it is. We get exhausted and need breaks between demanding tasks. On the other hand, “people who view their willpower as a limitless resource get energized instead.”
From smashing your life goals to resisting that box of cookies in the staff kitchen, this is a pretty handy piece of news. Change your outlook on willpower, and you can supercharge your supply of it.
6. 1980s video games fight stress
Any news about how to reduce stress is bound to be on our list of happiest stories of the year. But even more so when you throw some ‘80s video-game nostalgia into the mix.
This year it was joyfully revealed that playing Tetris can help you cope with stress. The reason has to do with the psychological concept of “flow”—that state you enter when you get completely absorbed in a task. Researchers found that being in a flow state helped lower peoples’ negative emotions and get them through a period of stress.
We always knew those little-colored blocks were good for something.
By the way, though, it doesn’t have to be Tetris. Any activity that gets you into that flow state should have the same effect. If you’re not sure what kind of activity that may be, check out this talk from psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which explains the concept of flow in more detail.
7. Abandoned pets are getting a home this holiday
Pets are awesome. And not just because you can dress them up to look cute for your holiday greeting messages. According to science, having them around is actually good for your health and well-being.
So in light of that, here’s another of the year’s happiest stories to make you feel warm inside: An Ohio shelter and adoption center has invented something called a “holiday sleepover” for pets. And it’s just as great as it sounds.
How does it work? Families adopt orphaned and abandoned pets from the shelter and give them a home over the holiday period. Because even pugs need hugs on Christmas day.
It’s hoped that some families will fall for the pets and decide to adopt them for good. And if the program idea spreads to other shelters around the country, well, that’s even better.
8. We made strides toward a healthier planet
Environmental stories tend not to be the happiest stories. And it’s true, there’s plenty to be alarmed about. Overfishing, deforestation, plastic waste… We can’t deny it—there’s so much work to be done.
But feeling helpless isn’t going to solve anything, so let’s take a minute to acknowledge some awesome news: We are making strides. This is a year where the movement to ban plastic bags really took legs around the world, while Starbucks led the way on ditching plastic straws. Way to go.
Want more? NASA announced that the hole in the ozone layer has shrunk for the first time since CFCs were banned in 1987. And a number of endangered animal populations are recovering. We’re pleased to say that Amazon turtles, mountain gorillas, and humpback whales aren’t going anywhere just yet.
We can make a difference. Let’s keep up the good work.
To sum it all up…
We hope these stories gave you a bit of a lift at the end of the year. And while these are some of the happiest stories we could find, there are more if you just look for them. Let’s make 2019 a year of celebrating the good along with working for change.
Your turn: What were the happiest stories to have you feeling good in 2018? Tell us in the comments.
For more ways to end 2018 with a bang, check out these 67 healthy body and mind tips.
Author: Tania Braukamper
Tania Braukamper is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She believes in curiosity, kindness, and adventure as a state of mind.