100 Things That Are Getting Better
Wands more magical than Harry Potter's: These days you can choose between a ball wand that coats lashes from the roots (L'Oréal Telescopic Explosion Mascara), a cone-shaped wand that can reach corners (Nars Larger than Life Lengthening Mascara), a microwand that's perfect for bottom lashes (Tarte Bottoms Up Lower Lash Mascara), and a vibrating wand that declumps and fully coats (Maybelline Pulse Perfection Vibrating Mascara).
27. Crayola crayons
No longer is burnt sienna the most exotic one in the box: Preschool Picassos can now color their worlds with silly scent crayons, glitter crayons, two-different-shades-of-one-color-built-into-a-single-crayon crayons, washable crayons, egg-shaped crayons....
28. Cheap watches
It used to be that a cheap watch was just that, cheap—something with a faux-croc band that popped a spring the second time you wore it. Now you can find colorful, playful, quality timepieces rendered in rubber, resin, and metal from Armitron, Timex, AK Anne Klein, and Swatch—all for less than $100.
29. Our reputation around the world
Looks like the Ugly American has gotten a makeover: According to the Pew Research Center, the nation's standing is on the rise in Latin America, Africa, much of Asia, and western Europe (a certain Norwegian prize committee comes to mind...).
30. The Beatles
Although their ranks have been depleted by half, the Beatles have never sounded better, thanks to gorgeous remasters of their classic albums. Now you can hear the tug of the bow across the cello strings on Revolver's "Eleanor Rigby," the tug of your own heartstrings when John's voice cracks on Rubber Soul's "In My Life."
31. Undersea exploration
For the past decade, scientists from 80 nations have been working overtime to plumb the mysteries of the sea. In 2010 they'll publish the results of their Census of Marine Life, an inventory of what swims, slithers, and lurks down there. Included are a six-foot octopod that propels itself with ear-shaped fins, a transparent sea cucumber, 5,300 potential new species, and a small fish named Nemo, who appeared to be lost.
Legalizing gay marriage in 2009 + producing artisanal charcuterie (try La Quercia's organic prosciutto) + University of Iowa football landing among the top 25 college teams for the fifth time this decade + ranking second on MainStreet.com's Happiness Index = one seriously happening Hawkeye State.
Removing an organ through a tiny nick in the skin; using radio waves or ultrasound to destroy a tumor without a single cut—in the past decade, the kinds of medical procedures once seen in sci-fi novels have arrived in the OR, often performed on an outpatient basis with minimal pain and recovery time.
34. Wind power
Change is in the air: We now produce enough wind power to run seven million homes. The goal is to generate 20 percent of our power from wind by 2030, which would mean a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.
35. Dental visits
Ultrasonic cleaning machines and digital imaging mean a lot less probing, goop, and pain. Virtual reality glasses even let you watch a movie during your root canal, which sure beats staring at ceiling tiles.
Thanks to apartment-friendly composting bins (like the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter Kit, $65; NaturalGoodLife.com), last night's dinner can now easily be turned into something good for Mother Earth.
37. Anne Hathaway
She ditched the icky boyfriend, dirtied up for Rachel Getting Married (nabbing an Oscar nomination), then showed her live comic chops on the Oscars and SNL. Soon to play Judy Garland in the biopic Get Happy, the 27-year-old is a toothy Disney princess no more.
38. Kathryn Bigelow
She cracked the boys' club with macho popcorn movies like Point Break and Blue Steel; with 2008's intense Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker, she's left the guys in the dust.
39. The news
In 1973, the year Rachel Maddow was born, only about 5 percent of TV newspeople were female. Now we're up to 42 percent, with those glam truth-tellers Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer leading the charge.
40. Grassroots philanthropy
While corporate gifts may be in short supply during these lean times, individuals are dropping off groceries at the food bank, mailing checks for disaster relief, and making donations online. Feeling the itch? Through Heifer.org, your $20 sends a flock of chickens to a poor community.
41. Pop music
The bubblegum hangover from Britney, Christina, and the boy bands has given way to full-on appreciation of Pink's strident hooks, Beyoncé's anthems, and Lady Gaga's ineffable...gaga-ness.
42. Laser hair removal
Today's lasers are more compact, faster (zapping both legs, ankle to bikini, in 15 minutes), and effective for all skin tones.
Once thick and chalky, the stuff is now imperceptible on the skin and more effective than ever. Need extra protection? Try Neutrogena Spectrum + Sunblock Lotion SPF 100, which has antioxidants and Helioplex 360.
44. Contraception use
According to the Guttmacher Institute, contraception use is going up worldwide, with the biggest gains in Latin America and Asia. For ages 15 to 44, the unintended pregnancy rate (per thousand) declined from 69 in 1995 to 55 in 2008.
The latest offerings are expert multitaskers, combining lightweight pigments with skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinol, and antioxidants. Some new brands have an intriguing delivery system, too. Our favorite: L'Oréal True Match Roller Perfecting Roll On Makeup, which comes with a mini "paint roller" applicator.
46. Airport food
Where are you? Who knows: Airports all look the same. But at least your taste buds can touch down someplace real, as regional foods are now available in terminals from coast to coast (fried clams in Boston, Cuban sandwiches in Miami...).
47. TV Shopping
The onetime insomnia cures HSN and QVC have become stylish, nicely priced boutiques for the likes of Badgley Mischka, Naeem Khan, Isaac Mizrahi, and Rachel Zoe.
48. Diabetes maintenance
Improving on the pincushion approach to testing one's blood, patients can now use a subcutaneous glucose sensor, which gives a reading every five minutes.
Skiers used to have to choose between maneuverability and speed—longer, stiffer boards were ideal for racing straight down the mountain, but you needed shorter, softer skis to make any turns along the way. Now designers have reinvented the gear, making schussing easier and more fun.
50. Newspaper puzzle sections
Explosive, game-changing international headlines will have to wait. We've got a date with Sudoku, Kakuro, and KenKen.