Best of 2020: The Best “Good News” Stories of the Year

Best Good news Items of 2020

Photo: Stock Photos from DA ANTIPINA/Shutterstock

The news cycle of 2020 has been dominated by fear, grief, and stress. This year has brought unprecedented difficulties to communities across the globe. Although it may seem ages ago, the year began with raging wildfires in Australia and the tensions of the presidential impeachment process in the United States. China was also facing the earliest cases of the deadly virus now known as COVID-19. By March, much of the world had entered lockdown in the face of a rising global pandemic. Wildfires raged across California while Americans took to the streets to protest stark racial inequities. Over 1.3 million deaths from the virus have occurred worldwide. Reading the papers and watching pundits, one might not be able to think of any good news from this past year; but, there were some truly uplifting stories, too.

Throughout 2020, there have been many moments of beauty, love, and joy. Whether these stories play out on a national or local stage, they have not gone unnoticed. Millions tuned into John Krasinski‘s Some Good News YouTube show for bite-sized interesting interviews and charming viral videos. Illustrator Mauro Gatti continued The Happy Broadcast Instagram, featuring sweet sketches with uplifting facts. Good news is all around, if you know where to look.

We have gathered some of the best good news items of 2020—a trove of joy in a troubled year. Obscured by the larger stories, small acts of kindness and charming discoveries continue every day. While the serious and tragic events of this past year are important to report and remember, a balance of good news is helpful to face each new day with purpose and strength.

As we enter the year 2021, a strong feeling of anticipation lingers in the air. We are hopeful for new vaccines, new leadership, and a chance to hug vulnerable loved ones once more. Read on to fortify your soul for the new year with some of the small good moments that give us hope in one other.

Here are some of the best good news items of 2020.


Whales Returned to New York City


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Humpback whales began to return to New York City's harbor in large numbers in 2019. In 2020, there have been frequent sitings of these gentle giants as they feed within sight of the iconic skyline. Experts say a cleaner Hudson river is depositing nutrients which have revived the plankton upon which the whales subsist. One whale was found tangled in fishing line and buoys this August. The distressed creature was finally freed after a dramatic rescue mission by NOAA Fisheries and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.


Centenarians (Especially Women) Eagerly Practiced Their Right to Vote


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Voting rights have been an important theme of 2020—the 100th anniversary of the final ratification of the 19th Amendment. These centenarians suited up in masks or dropped their ballots in the mail. Nothing could stop them from making their voices heard this November. Some had cast their first ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At 103 years old, Detroit resident Talu Massey appeared in a music video to bring out the vote. Bea Lumpkin, at 102 was also born before women held the right to vote. Speaking to CNN, she said, “I have great confidence in young people, and I know they're going to do what needs to be done…So hooray for the youth!”


Sweden Went Coal-Free

In April of 2020, Sweden became one of three European countries to cease burning coal for energy—as Stockholm's Exergi AB’s Värtaverket plant shuttered. The company, Exergi, is pivoting focus to renewable energy. Later that same week, Austria also went coal-free. Both nations join Belgium as the vanguard for a clean-energy European Union. By 2025, seven more EU members are expected eliminate coal-fired energy sources.


Vulnerable Pandas Finally Got Frisky and Reproduced

Pandas are notoriously difficult for zookeepers to encourage into sustaining their own species. However, pandas have thrived in 2020. A panda couple at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park zoo had long frustrated keepers with their reluctance to breed. The zoo closed to the public in January due to the coronavirus, but the lack of crowds seems to have encouraged the pandas to finally get frisky. This is always an exciting development for the species, as the species is listed as vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. welcomed a precious panda cub in August. Mom Mei Xiang is doing a great job. You can watch the cub grow and change on the zoo's Instagram.


14-Year-Old Discovered a Molecule to Battle COVID-19


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This fall, 14-year-old Anika Chebrolu won the prestigious 3M Young Scientist Challenge with her discovery of a molecule which binds to the spikes of SARS-CoV-2. As the spikes allow the molecule to penetrate and infect cells, the teen's discovery was a step towards a cure for COVID. Chebrolu entered the contest this spring as an eighth grader in her home state of Texas. Selected as a finalist, she was paired with a mentor—Dr. Mahfuza Ali—who helped her run her proposed experiments. This brilliant young student now hopes to continue drug development on her cure, and to one day be a medical researcher and professor.


Barcelona Opera House Performed a Concert for 2,292 Plants

Like much of Europe, spring in Spain was a painful and scary time as the virus raged. Among the cultural institutions which shuttered was the ornate Gran Teatre Liceu (the Barcelona Opera House). For the theater's first performance upon reopening, social distancing brought an interesting solution. While a quartet played on stage, viewers around the world could tune in to hear the music. However, 2,292 potted plants occupied the red velvet seats of the opera house. Conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia staged the “plant opera,” hoping it would encourage viewers to reconsider our relationship to nature. “We don't live in the same world as 90 days ago, and this means we have to reflect on everything that we do,” the artist stated.


People Knit and Donate Winterwear for People in Need

Scarves in the Park Good News 2020

Photo: Stock Photos from SAVITSKAYA IRYNA/Shutterstock

The season of giving is beginning. In 2020, giving is more crucial than ever as many face economic insecurity brought on by the pandemic. Utah resident Suzette Aposhian has held her annual event, Scarves in the Park, for several years. Initially inspired by a video of women in New Hampshire, Aposhian collects knitted hats and scarves from a wide network of busy volunteers as the colder months approach. One weekend in early November, she hangs the items on a park fence with sweet little tags reading, “I am not lost or forgotten and neither are you.” This year Aposhian found her supply of donations lower than average, unfortunate in a year where demand may be higher. Thankfully, a Mountain America Credit Union stepped in to donate $500 to the project. Scarves in the Park will begin on December 5 in Salt Lake City, for anyone in need—no questions asked.


The Great Barrier Reefs Had Noticeable Recovery

When an Australian family-owned eco-tourism company could not longer take paying divers to the Great Barrier Reef, the company decided there was valuable work to be done during the shutdown. Passions of Paradise‘s scuba diving employees worked with a marine biologist to seed the coral reefs in their area. The employees planted thousands of new coral pieces as part of a collaboration between researchers and tourism professionals which began in 2019. Months later, parts of the enormous reef appear much healthier.


Health Care Workers Won the Lottery

This Halloween, four Canadian healthcare heroes got the surprise of a lifetime. For the four employees of the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia, playing lottery was a fun game to enjoy occasionally as friends. Heewon (Theresa) Choi, the team “captain,” discovered they had the winning ticket while at work. Her coworker Melanie Nolan misread the amount, originally believing they had won only $6,000, but she was missing a few zeroes. With the stresses healthcare workers have faced this year, it seems only fitting these four can now split the $6 million jackpot between them. Choi said, “I've always dreamed about being a millionaire, I feel like I’m in a dream.”


Grieving Orca Mother Successfully Had a Baby

J57 And J35 Orca Killer Whales

J35 and J57, mother and calf respectively, swimming together. (Photo: Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research)

Two years ago, the world grieved with Tahlequah, the mourning killer whale mother who carried her deceased calf on her back for 17 days. This September, Tahlequah (known as J35 to researchers) gave birth to a new healthy baby orca known as J57. As of October, the orca mother and baby were spotted swimming with their J pod by the Center for Whale Research. Another J pod baby orca was born just before J57; the whales seem to have recognized the joy of the new arrival. That same day J pod converged with the separate K and L pods—forming a “super pod” with lots of whale noises which researchers likened to a killer whale party. This joyful noise welcomed J57, who was actually born during the super pod event in Puget Sound.


Boy Math Genius Set a Guinness World Record

Do you remember doing times tables in school? This adorable 10-year-old boy in the UK has been dubbed the “King of Math” after achieving a Guinness World Record for answering 196 multiplication and division facts in one minute. Nadub Gill estimates he practiced for over an hour per day on Times Tables Rock Star, a computer game where users enter the answers to math questions. This brilliant young man describes his speed techniques and humbly recognizes he has always been “proficient” in math. His proud parents say he always does his math homework first, while his brother says Nadub wants to grow up to be an astronaut.


99-Year-Old Veteran Walks to Raise Money for NHS Workers

British 99-year-old decorated World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore charmed the world in the early days of the pandemic by vowing to complete 100 laps of his garden before his 100 birthday in an effort to raise funds for the National Heath Service. Captain Moore and his family hope to raise £1,000 (about $1,335), but quickly surpassed that goal by millions. By his 100th birthday, the Brit had raised £32 million (over $42 million) for the NHS. In July, the centenarian was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in the first ever socially distanced knighthood ceremony. “I am absolutely overawed,” he told the BBC in response to this honor. Now, Captain Tom and his family have set up The Captain Tom Foundation which will “combat issues like isolation, loneliness bereavement and mental health difficulties.”


Black Astronauts Broke Barriers

Victor J. Glover Jr. NASA

Victor J. Glover, Jr. (Commander, U.S. Navy), NASA Astronaut. (Photo: NASA/Robert Markowitz via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])

With the launch of the Crew-1 SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” mission to the International Space Station on November 15, 2020, Victor J. Glover Jr. became the first Black astronaut to embark on a long-term stay at the ISS. Glover—who is a decorated fighter pilot, flight engineer, and second in command on the mission—will remain at the ISS for six months. Glover arrived as part of the historic Space X mission, part of NASA's new collaboration program with private industry. Another public-private collaboration between NASA and Boeing will send Jeanette Epps to the ISS in 2021 as the 16th Black NASA astronaut in space. She will also be the first Black woman to reside on the ISS.


Young Ballet Dancer Becomes First Dancer From India To be Accepted to the English National Ballet School

Kamal Singh began his ballet career at 17 years old in his home city of Delhi, India. Most dancers begin training at much younger ages, but Singh quickly showed exceptional promise. His teacher, Argentinean dancer Fernando Aguilera trained the young man for free for three years, as his family could not afford the lessons. After applying online, the talented young man won a prestigious spot at the English National Ballet school in London. To fund his tuition and living expenses, Singh and his devoted teacher turned to Ketto, a crowd-funding site. With the influence of several Bollywood stars, the fund raised enough money to get Singh to London, where has begun intense (socially distanced) training alongside his fellow students. According to the BBC, Singh hopes to be an inspiration to aspiring Indian ballet dancers. “In my mind, there is no comparison to ballet,” he says of the physically and mentally demanding dance tradition. You can help Singh and his fellow young dancers by supporting the English National Ballet School, which like many cultural organizations is suffering during the pandemic.


Tiny Owl Is Found in the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree After 170-Mile Journey


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Every year, a giant Christmas tree is placed in Rockefeller Center to ring in the holiday season. The pine tree was cut down in Oneonta, New York and travelled 170 miles to New York City with a surprising tiny stowaway. A worker setting up the tree found a petite saw-whet owl in the tree's branches. The creature appeared to be unwell, so the worker and his wife called the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center asking if they could take in the lost owl. After his shift, the animal's rescuer drove the owl in a cardboard box to meet a representative of the center for a handoff. The center reports the owl is now doing well after receiving food and fluids. “Rockefeller,” as he has been named (or Rocky for short), has now returned happy and healthy to the wild.


Dolly Parton Donated $1 Million to Vaccine Research


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Country star Dolly Parton is known for many things—her song “Jolene,” her big blonde mane, and now her generous $1 million donation that helped fund the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. It recently came to light that Parton quietly donated the cash to Vanderbilt University Medical Center's COVID-19 research in April. However, according to CNN, the singer did not know that her donation partially funded the vaccine developments (versus general research) until the November report of the vaccine's 94.5% efficacy was released. Parton told the BBC, “I'm a very proud girl today to know I had anything at all to do with something that's going to help us through this crazy pandemic.”


Adorable Welsh Goats Took Over a Town and Spread Joy to Townspeople

In March of this year, a herd of wild goats took over a Welsh town—climbing stone fences, chomping on hedges, and sauntering through streets empty of traffic. Over 100 adorable Kashmiri goats usually roam the Great Orme, a mountain in north Wales. However, as the pandemic shut down the nearby Welsh coastal town of Llandudno, the peculiar quiet seems to have drawn the curious creatures. The invading goats were adorably caught on video by Andrew Stuart, who posted the charming content to his Twitter feed. He was not the only one to appreciate the visitors, though. Town councillor Carol Marubbi told the BBC that the town is proud of the goats and appreciated the diversion during trying times.


100-Year-Old Tortoise Saved His Species

Diego Galapagos Tortoise

Diego, the giant Galápagos tortoise, pictured in 2019. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [CC0 1.0])

Diego the giant Galápagos tortoise was born sometime before 1920 on Española Island in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. Between 1928 and 1933, he was captured and sent to the United States, eventually ending up at the San Diego Zoo. By the 1960s, the Chelonoidis hoodensis species to which Diego belongs was down to less than 20 individuals on Española Island. In 1977, the 175-pound tortoise was sent back to Galápagos for a captive-breeding program. After fathering at least 800 new additions to his species, Diego is responsible for about 40% of the 2,000 tortoises who now populate his native island. The now-100-year-old father of many was retired in June, returned alongside some of the other stud tortoises to Española. Diego is finally home, having saved his species. Experts estimate he may live 50 more years among his descendants.


A Beloved Independent Bookstore Was Saved

The Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company opened in 1919. Once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the beloved independent bookstore has struggled as sales dropped during the lockdowns of 2020. In October, the store reached out over social media channels to express their hope that the community fostered by the store will continue, and the store encouraged online ordering to keep them in business. The response was overwhelming—the store received 5,000 online orders within a week. The store has also started a membership program, where anyone can purchase a one-year membership as “Friends of Shakespeare and Company.” Members will receive original content and have the satisfaction of keeping a Parisian legend in business. Not the only independent bookstore to struggle, make sure to consider online or (safe) in person shopping at your local independent business this holiday season!


Dogs Were Simply the Best All Year Long


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Dogs are a constant source of joy for most animal lovers. Man's best friend can be goofy one moment, then give a comforting lick the next. Your furry friend might help you stave off heart disease, and a study released this year indicates dog's heart rates jump when we tell them we love them. Animal shelters saw huge rises in adoptions during lockdown, with many people realizing the benefits of a furry companion during trying times. Therapy dogs also gave their services to comfort stressed healthcare workers and firefighters battling the blazes in California.


Here's hoping to lots more good news items in 2021!

Best Good news Items of 2020

Photo: Stock Photos from SUZANNE TUCKER/Shutterstock


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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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