15 heartwarming stories from 2016 that made me cry big happy tears.

It wasn't all bad.

As far as years go, 2016 could use some good PR.

It seemed like we lost every celebrity we'd ever loved. We slogged through a divisive and bitter campaign season. And just when cellphones seemed like our only solace in the madness, they started literally exploding in our hands.

Needless to say, people are ready to throw in the towel on this one.


‌GIF from "Saturday Night Live." ‌

But some really good stuff happened in 2016, too.

Lots of people worked to make the world a kinder, safer, and happier place this year. They helped lend a hand, spread joy, and support people in need. And hearing about these people gives me hope that we're all gonna be OK.

Volunteers serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal during the Safeway Feast of Sharing event in Washington, D.C..Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Today, I want to highlight and remember the stories of these people. I want to give 2016 the positive press it needs before its relegated to the dustbin of history.

Here are 15 stories about 2016's bright spots. With helpers like this, it's clear we're headed in the right direction.

1. J.K. Rowling found out her books helped save this baby's life and did the most J.K. Rowling thing ever.

After Kelley Benham French's daughter Juniper was born prematurely, she and her husband started reading the Harry Potter series to Juniper in the hospital. The books (and top-notch medical care) helped the baby get through her time in the NICU. And when J.K. Rowling heard about young Juniper five years later, she kept the good going.

‌Juniper in the NICU. Photo by Cherie Diez. Photo used with Kelley Benham French's permission. ‌

2. This school replaced detention with meditation, and it completely turned things around.

Robert W. Coleman Elementary School had zero suspensions last school year and they're on track to do it again. Way to go, kids (and forward-thinking teachers)!

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.‌

3. Politicians took a break from arguing to unite against racism.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton disagreed on a few things, but they were a united front against bigotry, at least on social media. And it was a pretty great day.

‌Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.‌

4. Even after the election, complete strangers rallied together to support one another.

They offered positive messages of encouragement ... in a subway tunnel no less! Classic, 2016!

‌Photos by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.‌

5. This amazing mom took care of people's babies while they made huge parenting decisions.

Interim parents like Ann Lapin provide a vital service for new parents and these sweet babies.

‌Photo of Ann Lapin by Stacey Natal/Total City Girl, used with permission.‌

6. This man studied photography while in prison, and his photos showed a side of humanity we don't often see.

Since his release in 2011, Donato Di Camillo has captured portraits of people who are mentally ill and homeless and larger than life characters he meets while exploring New York. "These people walk around, and they're faceless," he said. "I feel that everybody deserves a face."

‌Image by Donato Di Camillo, used with permission.‌

7. Michelle Obama wore a gorgeous gown that had an equally remarkable story.

The stunning rose gold gown by Donatella Versace was a symbol of female strength and empowerment.

‌Photo by Shawn Thew/Getty Images.‌

8. When this woman's wife came out as transgender at her office, she was nervous. But her colleagues surprised her with a party.

There were cupcakes, hugs, and lots of happy tears. That's the positive power of 2016.

‌Photo of Zoe on her first day back to work after coming out, taken by Amanda Jette, used with permission.‌

9. Remember when everyone's imaginary life partner Leonardo DiCaprio took home his first Oscar and used his speech to fight back against climate change?

Not only did he finally take home the statuette, he reminded us why we fell in love with his work and activism in the first place.

10. Even when terrible things happened, good people stood up and said, "Not today, 2016," like this woman in a local restaurant.

She overheard a table full of homophobes and decided to kill 'em with kindness.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Woods, used with permission.‌

11. Two awesome tweens kicked butt in their Halloween costumes and taught us all an important lesson.

It's hard to hate on a year that gave us the Juslims, the Jewish and Muslim superhero team created by these amazing girls.

‌Photo courtesy of Catherine Pearlman, used with permission.‌

12. Stephen Colbert and Killer Mike got real about race relations.

Sometimes, representing your entire race actually works. (But just this once.)

13. Yes, there were natural disasters, but in the wake of devastation, people were there for each other.

When a massive wildfire broke out in Canada, people like Les Wiley stopped what they were doing to lend a hand.

‌Les Wiley hands out bottles of water to people fleeing their homes threatened by forest fires. Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images. ‌

14. Even on the world stage,  kindness and courage were never outpaced by the thrill of victory.

When Olympic athletes Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino of the U.S. collided on the track, they helped each other up and finished together.

‌Photos by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters (left) and Lucy Nicholson/Reuters. ‌

15. People dug in and fought for what they believed in this year, like the water protectors at Standing Rock and the thousands of allies supporting them.

Even the Māori, an indigenous group from New Zealand performed a traditional haka as a show of support.

Māori Solidarity with Standing Rock Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi #standingwithstandingrock

Posted by Tylee Hudson on Saturday, October 29, 2016

2016 wasn't perfect. But there's no such thing as a perfect year.

There will be tear-jerking triumphs and bitter defeats every year. We'll lose leaders and loved ones every year. We'll celebrate new babies and make lasting friendships every year. That's because life continues in a wobbly, perfectly imperfect circle.

As this year ends, I hope you can keep an eye on the good things too. It won't make the bad things go away or change them. But it will help us remember something important: Many people are good. Many people will stand up for what's right. And when we fall down, many of us help each other up. No flip of the calendar can change that.

Volunteers load donated flats of water to be taken to a camp just outside of Wandering River, Canada, in the wake of a devastating wildfire. Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.

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As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

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Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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