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The Syrian refugee crisis, the Charleston church shooting, the Russian plane bombing, the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks, and the ugly presidential political discourse. There are a lot of reasons to be glad to say goodbye to 2015.

But, even in the face of all that tragedy and hurt, the best of humanity still shined.

This was Inspired Life’s inaugural year, providing a platform to capture stories that share one commonality: They give us hope. Hope for our own lives, for others and for the world.

Sometimes that was exhibited in people simply trying to better themselves. Other times by someone sharing a personal experience that could help others going through a similar situation feel less alone.

There are always people searching for solutions to improve the lives of others. There are selfless, heroic acts both big and small.

As we start the new year, we know 2016 won’t be devoid of heartache, disappointment and evil. But we can find comfort in knowing there will always be more good people doing extraordinary things.

These are 12 stories we published this year that resonated:

1. A Stanford neurosurgeon’s parting wisdom on life before dying

Paul Kalanithi, a 37-year-old father, reflected on how he measured time differently after his cancer diagnosis. He died in March, several days before the Washington Post published his article.

“With little to distinguish one day from the next, time began to feel static. In English, we use the word time in different ways, “the time is 2:45” versus “I’m going through a tough time.” Time began to feel less like the ticking clock, and more like the state of being. Languor settled in. Focused in the OR, the position of the clock’s hands might seem arbitrary, but never meaningless. Now the time of day meant nothing, the day of the week scarcely more so.”

2. Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain

Regular meditation can actually alter the brain, neuroscientist Sara Lazar discovered. People that practiced regularly had “more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

In a second study, a group who had never meditated before were put through an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Several regions of their brains thickened, while “the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general” got smaller.

3. The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions

The state decided to tackle its homelessness program head on by placing people living on the streets in permanent housing.

“In 2005, Utah had nearly 1,932 chronically homeless. By 2014, that number had dropped 72 percent to 539. Today, explained Gordon Walker, the director of the state Housing and Community Development Division, the state is “approaching a functional zero.”

4. A man writes touching letter to photographer who airbrushed his wife’s photos.

After his wife gave him sexy photos of herself with every imperfection erased, he wrote a note to the photographer that the edits ” took away everything that makes up our life.”

“When you took away her stretch marks, you took away the documentation of my children. When you took away her wrinkles, you took away over two decades of our laughter, and our worries. When you took away her cellulite, you took away her love of baking and all the goodies we have eaten over the years.”

5. Do these exercises for two minutes a day and you’ll immediately feel happier, researchers say

You should spend two minutes every day finding three new things you’re grateful for, and another two minutes reflecting on a positive experience from the last 24 hours. Another is to physically remove your hands from the keyboard and focus on breathing in and out for two minutes.

“So many people are struggling to create happiness while their brain is inundated by noise. If your brain is receiving too much information, it automatically thinks you’re under threat and scans the world for the negative first. Because the brain is limited, whatever you attend to first becomes your reality,” said researcher Shawn Achor.

6. Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness

He’s the man behind the idea to provide homes to the homeless.

“People thought this was crazy,” said Sam Tsemberis, who today runs Pathways to Housing. “They said, ‘You mean even when someone relapses and sells all the furniture you gave them … [to pay for] drugs, you don’t kick them out?’ And I said, ‘No, we do not.’”

7. The fearless father who threw himself on a suicide bomber, saving ‘hundreds’ of lives in Beirut

A day before the Paris terror attacks, a community in Lebanon was targeted. The causalities would have been much worse if not for a father who saw a suicide bomber approaching and tackled him before he could approach the crowd.

“In a way, Adel Termos broke human nature of self-preservation. His heroism transcended his own life to save others,” Elie Fares told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “To make that kind of decision in a split second, to decide that you’d rather save hundreds than to go back home to your family, to decide that the collective lives of those around you are more important than your own is something that I think no one will ever understand.”

8. A Stanford plan to save doctors from burnout

At Stanford Hospital, doctors can bank time to trade in for services like meals, housecleaning, babysitting, elder care, movie tickets, dry cleaning pickup, to help with their work-life balance.

“Volunteering to cover shifts on short notice nearly doubled, to 83 percent, and people reported feeling more collegiality. Fewer postponed or avoided taking care of their health or put off vacation. The proportion of faculty who had time to discuss science with their colleagues jumped from 9 to 55 percent. And the share of female faculty members who felt Stanford supported their career development rose from 29 to 57 percent.”

9. San Bernardino victim shielded female co-worker during shooting, saving her life

Shannon Johnson wrapped his arms around a younger female colleague and said, “I got you,” as he shielded her from the bullets during the San Bernardino shooting.

“While I cannot recall every single second that played out that morning, I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him behind that chair. And amidst all the chaos, I’ll always remember him saying these three words,’I got you’,” Denise Peraza, the 27-year-old he comforted said in a statement to reporters.

10. 93-year-old World War II veteran reconnects with wartime love after 71 years apart

An American soldier and his British wartime girlfriend met again via Skype after her son tracked down his mother’s lost love online.

Joyce Morris, now living in Australia, told Norwood Thomas that she kept a photo of him by her bed and that she said good morning to him every day. He assured her that he would say good morning back to her. He only wished he could do so in person. Their sons, who facilitated the reunion, are trying to make that happen.

11. Want to enjoy the deep, mystical sleep of our ancestors? Turn your lights off at dusk.

Shutting down all artificial light at dusk allowed people to find peace in the middle of the night. People who did so slept deeply for four hours, awoke for one or two, and then slept deeply another four. The hours in between were described as a zen-like experience akin to meditation.

“If you turn the lights off at dusk and keep them off, giving your body the full spectrum of the night to work from, that richer, deeper darkness will fashion an experience so different from your normal daylight consciousness it is almost a mystical state.”

12. Improve your day by starting it with a dose of ‘transformative news’

Research shows that the kind of news you find on Inspired Life can change the tenor of your day and help empower you to change things for the better.

“We think we have to have either ‘true’ negative news, or saccharin positive news. But transformative news is a kind of third way. … Transformative news can start in a negative place, but it goes somewhere. It’s an activating, engaging and solutions-focused approach to covering news.”

Want more inspiring news and ideas to improve your life? Sign up for the Saturday Inspired Life newsletter.