When looking back over the last calendar year, it's sometimes difficult to pick out those news stories which have offered hope and happiness. There's something intrinsic about human nature that focuses on the negative, and, in 2017, there was more than enough to cause worry and concern. Nevertheless, there were also a huge number of positive news stories out there in the last 12 months. Here's our selection of the top ten positive news stories from 2017.
In a scientific study that came out in the summer, researchers found that individuals showed more significant signs of happiness when they opted for saving time on chores in favour of relaxing and enjoying themselves. The psychologist who led the work, Dr Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia in Canada, said that people often carry out lots of tasks themselves rather than paying for them to be done by someone else.
Her research suggests that life satisfaction increases when we try not to do everything ourselves and merely pay for specific services, like cleaning around the home, to be done. Crucially, her work points out that such money is well spent and is indeed better for our mental well-being than buying a material product.
According to the Xinhua news agency in China, the rare snow leopard has been sighted in Eastern Tibet for the first time, an area that was previously thought to be extinct of such creatures. Officially classed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the snow leopards were even filmed roaming in this wild habitat using remote infra-red cameras.
Zhao Xiang, head of the Shan Shui Conservation Centre, told the press that their protection efforts had gained positive results. The images include those of baby leopards with their mother which indicates the future of the troubled species may be a little more secure than previously thought.
The cat is back: snow leopards in East Tibet have reemerged
In positive news that the likes of David Attenborough can surely feel good about, research published in March showed that people feel greater levels of happiness when they sit down to watch a well-produced natural history programme on TV.
In a worldwide study, it was found that women in particular often experienced a dramatic emotional change when viewing the natural world on television. Anyone in the age range of 16 to 24 showed the greatest reduction in nervousness, overburden and even fatigue, according to the research undertaken by the University of California Berkeley.
An American environmental organisation has announced plans to plant trees in a huge area of 74,000 acres in Brazil. The scheme will reforest an area which has previously been cleared of its tropical hardwood trees. The not-for-profit organisation, Conservation International, announced in November that it plans to restore a whopping 73 million trees on land close to the Amazon river by 2023.
It's hoped that the planting will lead the way in what is known as the 'arc of deforestation' in the region. Deforestation has had a big impact on the flora of Brazilian states such as Amazonas, Acre, Pará and Rondônia. The CEO of Conservation International said that the project was good for “the region's inhabitants, its countless species and [for] the climate of our planet.”
In research undertaken across some Western countries, figures show that children are more likely to spend time in their parents' company than they would have done 50 years ago. According to Giulia Maria Dotti Sani of the European University Institute and Judith Treas of the University of California, children will, on average, spend twice as much time with one or other of their parents than similar research was undertaken in 1965 indicated.
Perhaps this study pushes back against the idea that modern children are left to their own devices. The work was conducted with around 68,500 mothers and 53,700 fathers in the USA, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and the UK.
Family affair: kids are spending more time with their parents
We all know about the huge amounts of plastics that are discarded every day around the world. Unfortunately, much of the rubbish created from plastic products and packaging ends up in the sea, polluting the world's oceans and being ingested by creatures. Thanks to a Dutch company, there are now plans to collect this debris from the oceans and turn it into something useful: roadways in the city of Rotterdam.
According to the developers, their plastic roadway will have a higher endurance than other systems and be able to withstand extreme temperatures as low as -40 C. What's more, the manufacturers think their plastic road surface sections will take less time to install. Indeed, they will be capable of including channels in their design so that things like telecommunications cables can be fitted easily beneath them.
Stephen Davies, a British engineer and charity organiser, realised there was a need for relatively cheap prosthetic limbs for children who often outgrow what can be provided for them as their bodies develop. Rather than turning his 3D printing designs into a business, he opted to give away his work at cost price and to share the details of his designs online.
Offering hope to an untold number of children with his brilliant prosthetic arms and legs, the engineer kept costs down by doing all of the work in his humble garden shed. Davies was featured in a Channel 4 awards show for his shed which houses a miniature production line. Modern prosthetic limbs can cost tens of thousands of pounds, but Davies' designs at Team UnLimbited cost as a little as £20, making them ideal for little ones who will soon outgrow theirs. “We’ve produced Iron Man designs, as well as Harry Potter, Lego and Spider-Man,” said the designer. “The key is making something a child actually wants to wear.”
A Norwegian businessman who started out from humble beginnings as a fisherman to become one of the country's wealthiest men has donated the lion's share of this fortune to clean up the world's oceans. Kjell Inge Røkke had a well-deserved reputation for his hard-nosed approach to business, but his legacy is likely to be in the construction of a 596-foot marine research ship, first announced this year.
The so-called Research Expedition Vessel (REV) will learn more about the seas, offering oceanographers a home when they conduct their research. However, that's not all, because the REV will also be designed to capture lots of plastic pollution as it moves around. In what will be the largest private yacht afloat once built, the REV should be capable of collecting up to five tons of plastic per day from the sea and then melt it down for storage until it returns to port. The REV will carry 60 scientists and 40 crew when surveying marine areas.
Sea change: cleaner oceans are on the horizon
There are some fields of medical science that are offering hope to patients of all kinds at the moment. However, according to Science, the esteemed journal, few have been so prolific in 2017 as the field of gene therapy. Although astronomy was their chosen winner of the '2017 Breakthrough of the Year', the work going on in gene therapy was a runner-up.
The journal commended research going on in several fields such as a research project which has shown that intravenous AAV9 gene therapy can prevent spinal muscular atrophy 1. Furthermore, two cancer treatments have been developed this year using similar techniques. In these, a patient’s immune cells are genetically modified outside of their body and then re-injected into them, surely something that can offer renewed hope to thousands of individuals.
In December, scientists announced hopeful news for sufferers of Huntington's disease. In a new study, published by the University College London, a sample group of patients with the debilitating condition were enrolled in the first human trial for a novel drug therapy. Administered through the patients’ spinal fluid, the drug was found to be safe and tolerated by those who received it.
Furthermore, it successfully diminished the level of the harmful protein associated with the condition that impacts so negatively on the brain’s nervous system. Professor Tabrizi, who led the work, said the trial was of 'ground-breaking importance' for Huntington’s Disease patients and their families. ●
Main image: Jasper Boer on Unsplash
Ed Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
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