Good news feels good

I came upon an unanticipated section of the New York Times this week and it resonated with me.

I usually don’t read the New York Times on Saturday, but I plan to start.

The heading said, “The Week in Good News.” It started like this: “Sometimes it seems like we are living under a constant barrage of heavy news. But it isn’t all bad out there.” The information that followed was informative and upbeat. It was intended to send the reader into the weekend “with a smile or at least a lighter heart.”

The opening item lightened my Norwegian heart because it was about the increasing presence of happy chess-playing people in Norway. Apparently stores “struggle to keep chess boards on their shelves.”

What a perfect holiday gift for my Norwegian-speaking younger brother, who has health issues that will keep him house-bound for a few months. On the card that accompanies the gift, I will remind him that the world’s top-ranked chess player, eight years in a row, has been a Norwegian named Magnus Carlsen. I might even use the phrase the article used, “smart is the new sexy.”

The next item was about a woman who created a “Grammar Table,” an actual table that she sets up to help passersby with grammar. I probably need that information, but I admittedly found it less enlightening than Norway’s fascination with chess boards.

There was a reference to “getting out of one’s comfort zone” in order to bring change in the world, and it used the first female prime minister of Aruba as an example, proving strong women are everywhere. And there was another paragraph about universities connecting innovatively with their surrounding neighborhoods by creating incentives for more walkable communities — interesting as well as heart-healthy information.

Not surprisingly, puppies were profiled. There was a long paragraph on how puppies might be the perfect therapy for people with mounting stressors and resulting mental health issues. I learned during Thanksgiving holiday visitations that my niece plans to give everyone on her Christmas list — wait for it — a puppy. When I learned about her intentions, I had a brief moment in which I yearned to be on her gifting list — but I quickly recovered my sanity. Her mother, my sister-in-law, is on that list, however, and I plan to visit her much more often in the coming year.

The final item in this array of good news stories introduced a book, “Enlightenment Now,” which apparently contains “rock-solid” arguments indicating situations worldwide are often much less problematic than depicted.

The author, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, clearly an optimist, believes that “history tells us attempts to make the world better tend to succeed.” The author and his editors indicate, “if you’ve been feeling like the world has been getting worse, that violence is on the rise or that humanity has already ‘peaked,’ this book will challenge everything you have been feeling.” I like a good challenge. And I can buy the book for $2.99 on Kindle.

I plan to read it while puppy-sitting for my sister-in-law.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray is My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Grammar Table existed online, and was intended to help people “track the difference between the passive and active voice.”

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