December 10, 2020
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Kindness, compassion, and escape—themes from 2020

In a year marked by dramatic change, readers looked for stories to spark hope and provide much-needed diversion.

After a difficult year, we look back at the stories that offered us hope. Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash

This was meant to be a roundup of our favorite stories of the year—an annual December tradition. But, well, how do you summarize a year like this?

There were the events that stopped us in our tracks: a global pandemic and its economic fallout, a national reckoning with race after witnessing the police killings of Black Americans, a contentious presidential election. But there were also the moments that defined our resilience. In 2020, we relearned what it means to rely on one another, our family, our neighbors, and our community.

So for our roundup this year, here are a few of our most popular stories from 2020 that reveal how we helped each other cope. In this list, you won’t be surprised to see there were lots of stories about spreading kindness and learning how to help one another. We also needed a diversion in the form of books, so there’s lots of great reading lists here.

We think you’ll find a bright spot in these stories from a trying year. Here’s to a more hopeful 2021.

Kindness was our guide

In a new reality where we were often isolated from our loved ones, as well as activities that made us happy, readers gravitated toward stories about happiness, kindness, and communication.

One of our most popular stories was a list of all the different ways you can spread kindness in your school, workplace, or neighborhood. While many of them aren’t actions we can take right now, some of them still work in a pandemic, like sending more snail mail and intentionally offering kindness on social media.

READ: 8 ways to spread kindness

Thankfully, there is evidence that participating in those acts of kindness leads to more happiness. That’s good news during a year when rates of depression have tripled.

READ: Performing random acts of kindness can make you happier

Readers were also inspired by the story of Mary Latham, who drove all across the country and stayed in both small towns and big cities to uncover stories of kindness in America. Mary shared lessons from her journey in a Q&A with us. “The best thing you can do, and it doesn’t cost anything, is give people your time,” she said.

READ: She drove 43,000 miles to uncover stories of kindness

Helping others became a priority

In 2020, our readers were interested in ways to help those dealing with housing insecurity. Our most popular articles featured resources for what homeless shelters actually need the most, including key hygiene products, warm clothing, and, of course, cash donations that let shelters buy what they need at the moment.

READ: What homeless shelters really need

Readers wanted to know what people experiencing homelessness personally need the most—items like socks and aspirin, as well as a chance for human connection. In this story below, they also learned what homeless individuals don’t want, like food that spoils easily and protein bars loaded with nuts that can be hard on the teeth.

READ: LA reporter asks homeless folks what they need

With millions of people facing food insecurity, many readers are looking for ways to find local food banks and pantries. Luckily, the app Foodfindr can help you find where to donate non-perishables or find food if you need some help.

READ: This app connects those in need with the nearest free meal

Books offered a respite

What better way to handle quarantine than look for something new to read? People were interested in seeing which books middle and high school teachers had requested the most. Popular picks included novels that dealt with important social issues such as The Hate U Give, and A Long Walk to Water that illuminate the current events young people are grappling with today.

READ: 10 books teachers think their students should read

Teach for America gathered six books specifically designed to help young readers mentally during COVID-19. These titles offer not only a sense of escape, but were intended to help young people process the unprecedented experience of a global pandemic.

READ: 6 books to get YA readers through a pandemic

Adults need to read, too. That’s why another popular piece was book recommendations we gathered from mayors across the country. They shared their favorite reads, mostly nonfiction on topics such as health, history, and the science of cities.

READ: 9 books that will spark joy while you’re hunkering down