When thinking back on 2016, the good and the bad, it can be tempting to dwell too much on a certain someone. You know the dick we’re talking about. His rise was unprecedented, and quite frankly, we still can’t believe it happened at all.
For better or worse, the nation was captivated, even if nobody expected this dick to make it all the way.
We’re talking about, of course, the first successful U.S. penis transplant.
Last May, Thomas Manning, 64, received a new penis after losing his original one to cancer. It urinates like a real penis, and it may even have sexual function eventually.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, who performed the 15-hour surgery, called it a “landmark procedure.”
There was also an election this year. But the less said about that, the better.
Our point is this: You can dwell on everything that was depressing and polarizing in 2016, or you can focus on the good stuff.
For at least one day, we’re going to give thanks to the reasons why 2016 was awesome.
You can go back to telling us why we’re all doomed next week. But for now, let’s eat too much turkey, unbuckle our belts, and remember all the ways that this year helped restore our faith in the human race.
Here are 11 reasons to feel thankful for 2016.
1. People were randomly kind to strangers.
Some of the most awe-inspiring, life-affirming things that happened this year took almost no effort.
Like when FSU wide receiver Travis Rudolph visited a middle school, noticed an 11-year-old autistic kid having lunch by himself in the cafeteria, and sat down to eat with him.
Not a big deal. But when we heard about it, who among us didn’t want to give this guy a Nobel Peace Prize?
It’s possible we’ve just been hardened by the Internet, where people are sadistic douches to each other for sport. But when we hear about 200 strangers attending the funeral of a homeless veteran with no family, or a 4-year-old girl befriending a grieving elderly widower, you realize how easy it is to be decent.
Sometimes it’s just about showing up.
If you find yourself feeling fatalistic about humanity, just remember this: There’s a guy in our country who dresses up like Spiderman and gives away pizzas and bottled water to homeless people.
As long as people like this are out there, we’re going to be okay.
2. The little things we’re doing, some of them really stupid, are making a difference.
Remember when everybody was doing the Ice Bucket Challenge a few years ago, dumping cold water on their heads to raise money for ALS research? Admit it, a small part of you thought the whole thing was a ridiculous waste of time.
How was this “slacktivism” making any real difference? It seemed less like real fundraising and more like the entire world saying, “Look at me ! I’m like Gandhi but with more Facebook likes!”
Well, guess what? For once, a pop culture fad did more than just “break” the Internet. It actually made a difference.
The ALS Association donated $1 million of the money raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge to Project MinE, a University of Massachusetts Medical School Project which used the funding to identify a gene, NEK1, that’s been linked to ALS.
This is a huge breakthrough in understanding how the disease works, and in developing new potential treatments for ALS.
It only happened because a bunch of your friends—and maybe you—dumped icy water on their heads like morons and shared it on Facebook.
Here’s more amazing news: The ozone layer—the collection of molecules in the stratosphere that’s been shielding the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, and has been slowly disappearing—might be coming back.
It’s in large part thanks to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty in 1987 that strongly recommended the world stop using aerosol sprays and other products with ozone-depleting chemicals.
The world begrudgingly agreed, even though more than a few of us (you know who you are) never thought it would make a difference. Yeah, like using roll-on deodorant is really going to save the planet. We’re doomed!
Except wait a minute, it turns out we’re not as doomed as we all thought we were in the 80s.
MIT researchers published a new study this summer revealing new evidence of the “first fingerprints of healing” of the Antarctic ozone layer.
“Which is pretty good for us, isn’t it?” MIT climate scientist and lead author Susan Solomon said. “Aren’t we amazing humans, that we did something that created a situation that we decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’? We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”
If somebody tells us next year, “Have a buddy punch you in the nuts for lung cancer, and stop using Netflix so we can end climate change,” we just might do it.
Because hey, stranger things have happened.
3. We’ve got more tigers!
Everything good in the world seems to be disappearing. Polar ice caps. Honey bees. Landlines. Maryland blue crab. David Bowie.
But you know what’s not disappearing as much anymore? Tigers!
The World Wildlife Fund, which keeps track of things like global tiger population, reported this year that there are now 3,890 tigers in the world, a big increase from roughly 3,200 tigers in 2010.
This is the first time in a century that the tiger population is growing. A century!
That means the last time the number of tigers in the world was in the plus column, both Siegfried and Roy were decades away from being born.
The WWF hopes that by 2022, there’ll be double the number of wild tigers. There’ll be so many tigers, we’ll be like, “Remember when tigers were almost extinct?”
But nobody will find that funny, because we’ll all be setting glue traps in our kitchens because of all the damn tigers. Yeah right, not enough tigers. Must’ve been nice!
4. David S. Pumpkins
The best thing about this Tom Hanks Saturday Night Live sketch from October is that nobody can explain why it’s funny.
It shouldn’t be funny. On paper, it’s anti-comedy. If you tried to do a math equation explaining how humor works, this would the formula where none of the numbers add up. But still, people love it. It was an Internet sensation.
We know at least a half dozen people, all of them adults with respectable jobs, who can’t even hear the name “David D. Pumpkins” without peeing themselves a little.
Maybe it’s just the right stupidity at the right time. Nothing makes any sense anymore, so why not embrace some nonsensical comedy chaos that aligns with that worldview?
Even better than laughing at David S. Pumpkins are the people who get irrationally angry because everyone is laughing at David S. Pumpkins.
Their red-faced consternation, as they demand that somebody explain the satiric metrics to them, somehow makes it funnier. They’re like the pinch-faced critic who get baffled every time somebody laughs at a fart.
“It’s just flatulent gases generated in the intestine and expelled through the anus,” they’ll say. “How is that amusing?”
The louder they object, the funnier it gets.
5. Science is blowing our minds.
Have you seen what science has been up to this year? Oh, nothing much, just levitating light bulbs!
Okay fine, that’s not the biggest technological achievement of 2016. But it’s still pretty cool. An actual scientist said, “You know what I hate about light bulbs? They’re too attached to lamps.” Problem solved, everybody!
Also, we sent a spacecraft to Jupiter this year. Not the town in Florida, the planet that’s 365 million miles away.
Going to Jupiter used to be so implausible that the last science fiction movie set on Jupiter was 1965’s Invasion of the Astro-Monster. For the past half-century, Hollywood has nixed all plotlines involving visiting Jupiter, because come on, let’s at least keep our space-travel fiction within the realm of possibility.
In 2016, we can now do things with the sun now besides getting sunburns. The first solar-powered plane circumnavigated the planet this year.
Remember how the best thing a roof could do was keep it from snowing in your living room? Soon we’ll be getting Tesla solar roofs, which can power your whole house for the same price.
Not impressed yet? Okay, how about self-lacing shoes? The Back to the Future tech, which was a bunch of science fiction hooey (but not “going to Jupiter” hooey) in the 80s, is now something you can own if you have an extra $700.
Finally, science has made it possible for us to not bend over for a minute.
6. Boaty McBoatface
There was at least one election this year that rekindled our belief in the human capacity for greatness.
A British government agency asked the public to come up with a name for their new $300 million state-of-the-art polar research vessel, asking specifically for something “inspirational.”
The most popular choice, with more than 120,000 votes, was Boaty McBoatface.
It didn’t come to pass, sadly. Boaty was rejected, and the ship was named after a British naturalist, the fourth-place entry. But before anyone could start claiming that the voting was rigged, Boaty McBoatface got a second chance at life.
In May, it was announced that a yellow drone submarine, stored on board the same ship, would be christened RRS Boaty McBoatface.
This sub already has its date with destiny. In the coming years, it will become the world’s first autonomous, non-nuclear robotic underwater vehicle to travel under the frigid water of the Antarctic, crossing one side of the ocean basin to the other.
“Boaty will have the endurance to go all the way to the Arctic,” said Dr. Russell Wynn, Head of Marine Geoscience at the National Oceanography Centre .
That’s right, a guy in charge of Marine Geoscience just used the word “Boaty” with a straight face. That’s his job now, to say “Boaty.”
He probably has to say it several times a day. “Can we get a propellor shaft check on Boaty?”
We live in remarkable times, my friends. Be joyful!
7. Bruce Springsteen’s stamina.
The Boss is 67 years ago. He is officially eligible for social security. He is of legal retirement age. But he’s still out there touring, regularly doing marathon rock shows that would physically destroy guys half his age.
He broke the record for longest show this September, playing a staggering four hours and three minutes in Philadelphia. That’s roughly how long it would take to cook a fully stuffed 16 pound turkey for Thanksgiving.
It doesn’t matter if you love or despise Springsteen’s music. That’s not what this is about. Nobody’s asking you to memorize all the lyrics to “Thunder Road.”
But if you’re looking for a reason to feel proud to be an American, this is a good place to start.
When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the smartest countries in 2015, in terms of math and science, the U.S. didn’t even break the top 20.
We’re apparently not as smart as Slovenia, Finland, or Poland.
But guess what? Long after all those smarty-pants countries have gone to sleep, we will STILL BE ROCKING!
8. Obama/Biden memes.
Memes are one of those things that you don’t need until you really need them. And then sweet Lord are they cathartic.
Nobody needs another meme with that same screenshot of Willy Wonka—finger on his temple, looking smugly satisfied—and a sarcastic comment that begins “Tell me again why . . .”
What we do need is more imagined Obama and Joe Biden conversations.
Nothing happened this year that was so toxic and horrific that it couldn’t be healed with a Meme of Joe Biden saying, “Imma point at ‘em.”
9. The Great British Bake Off.
What’s that? You think we’ve lost our mind, recommending a reality baking show where painfully polite British people make pastries?
Well sorry, but you’re wrong.
If you aren’t already a fan, you’re missing out on the best show on television today. And yes, we’ve seen Westworld.
Why is it so great? First of all, watching The Great British Bake Off is like taking an Advil PM with a glass of red wine while getting a foot massage. And we mean that as a compliment.
In a world where reality seems designed to give us paranoid insomnia, this is a welcome (and entirely healthy) sedative.
But this isn’t to say the show is boring. Anything but. As it lulls you into a state of “everything is fine” bliss, it also entertains with a torrent of “did they just say that?” filth.
The very British people on this show say things like “Oh no, you have some irregular-shaped balls” and “Your crack is nice and moist” and our personal favorite, “There is no such thing as too big. Not in my world.”
All of the above observations came from the same 81 year-old pastry judge, who probably didn’t even realize she was uttering incredibly dirty double entendres. Or maybe she did. Nobody knows for sure. It’s why we keep watching, for clues.
10. It was the year of the underdogs.
Last summer, Pete Rose told us that he’d rather throw money out of a skyscraper than make a wager on the Cubs winning the World Series.
“Don’t bet on something to happen that only a 115-year-old woman can remember happening the last time,” he said.
We totally should have taken that bet.
The Cubs, as we’re sure you know by now, won the World Series, and Chicago is still celebrating. They’re still wearing baseball jerseys despite the frigid temperatures, and writing the names of dead loved ones in chalk on the side of Wrigley Field. They don’t want this feeling to disappear.
And Cub fans weren’t alone. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals last summer, and LeBron wept like he’d gotten bad biopsy results. It’s Cleveland’s first major sports championship—not just for the Cavaliers, but any sports championship—since 1964.
Let’s not forget Leicester City, the Bad News Bears of English football. A British bookmaker gave them 5,000 to 1 odds of winning the English Premier League title.
To put it in perspective, U2 frontman Bono had a 1,000-to-1 chance of becoming the next Pope. So, the odds were very much against them.
But the football team that everybody expected to fail took the top prize anyway.
If just one of those teams had won a championship this year, it would’ve been historic. But three losing teams, all of whom had lost so much that losing became a part of their identity, winning unprecedented championships in the same year, causing grown men to cry with disbelief on at least two continents, well, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, it just might be proof that God exists and wants us to be happy.
[This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in Men’s Health.]