100 Things That Are Getting Better
Thin, flexible stainless steel support wires in the back curve with the body. The Steelcase Think chair reflexively adjusts even to the body's smallest movements. Resistance in the chair back increases or decreases according to the sitter's weight. Up to 37 percent of the 32-pound chair comes from recycled materials.
A $20 billion transfusion of federal funds, which has launched 9,400 construction projects (including resurfacing and widening roads, repairing bridges) covering 22,000 miles means one helluva smoother ride.
Spicy Thai, Cheddar, sweet chili sour cream, crab boil, honey Dijon, chocolate, jalapeño... No one can eat just one bag.
54. Faux fur
The stuff is looking less Muppet-y by the minute. It's getting so nobody even knows who to splatter with red paint anymore.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic's Gustavo Dudamel, just 29, is known as "the people's conductor"; Alan Gilbert is modernizing the New York Philharmonic; Baltimore's Marin Alsop is the first woman to lead a major American orchestra. It seems the baton has been passed.
56. Being single
The skies have never been friendlier if you're flying solo, with people living alone now making up more than a quarter of U.S. households. Agencies are more welcoming toward singles who want to adopt, and there are dating Web sites for every conceivable cohort (SingleFirefighter.com, anyone?). Meanwhile, battery-operated companionship is more plentiful than ever: When the sex shop Babeland opened in 1993, they offered 25 types of vibrators; today there are 170.
57. Awards shows
Hugh Jackman transformed the Oscars; Neil Patrick Harris reinvented the Tonys and the Emmys. Be still, our hearts: Is that Ricky Gervais warming up for the 2010 Golden Globes?
58. Eva Zeisel
With, among other things, her classic dinner service still flying off the shelves at Crate & Barrel, her new line of Royal Stafford dinnerware, the teakettle she created for Chantal, and the lounge chair of our dreams, the Hungarian artist, at 103, is being lauded like a midcareer phenom.
59. Plus-size clothes
Dear Michael Kors, Elie Tahari, Calvin Klein: Thank you for designing chic clothes for those of us sizes 14 and up. We love fashion, too, and now we look better than ever. Sincerely, Women
60. Public awareness of the plastic problem
Fact 1: Except for the small percentage that has been incinerated, every bit of plastic that has ever been manufactured still exists. Fact 2: The chemicals used to make plastic pliable and flame-resistant are among the most toxic substances on Earth. Fact 3: Plastic chemicals are becoming part of our bodies, disrupting our endocrine systems. The good news: Because of increased media attention, you are more likely to know this.
61. Wanda Sykes
She's written jokes for Chris Rock and starred in sitcoms and HBO specials; now she's putting out something even better—her authentic self, on The Wanda Sykes Show (Fox).
62. Running shoes
New technology can reduce the weight of your sneaker by several ounces, simulate running barefoot, and provide midsole cushioning that acts like a trampoline, putting a literal spring in your step. Downside: Uncomfortable shoes are no longer an excuse to quit jogging.
63. Betty White
If she'd done nothing more than turn predatory Sue Ann Nivens on Mary Tyler Moore and daffy Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls into the stuff of sitcom legend, Betty White would be entitled to just sit back, put her Easy Spirit–clad feet up on a chintz ottoman, and count her money. Instead, at 88, White is stealing scenes from Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal.
"Pay $6.49 for salt?! Are you kidding me? When I can buy a canister for 79 cents? No way! Yeah, so I put it on everything I eat. What of it?... You want me to take just a taste? What the heck. Mmmmm. Sea salt, you say? It tastes clean, gentle. Salty. Okay, I get it. Never mind."
65. Animated movies
From Up to Coraline to Fantastic Mr. Fox, animated movies have become so sophisticated, we're begging our kids, "Can we see it again? Just one more time? Please? Please?"
66. Household drudgery
Less drudge-y every day, thanks to the new lightweight garment steamers, cordless immersion blenders, and vacuums that ride on a ball so they can turn on a dime.
With chic hotels popping up, a thriving gay scene taking hold, the thrumming bars and clubs of the trendy Gemmayzeh district becoming international hot spots, Beirut is rebuilding itself in high style.
68. Dog beds
Treat your pup to memory foam padding, orthopedic foam padding, Sherpa fleece, chew-resistant beds, beds made to fit perfectly in the back of your station wagon, water-resistant beds, heated beds, cooling beds.... (Silk puppy pajamas and liver-flavored pillow mint sold separately.)
69. Autism acceptance
The condition has grown so common, affecting about one in 150 children, that advocacy and research groups have launched a national registry, the Interactive Autism Network (IanProject.org), which connects parents to researchers, as well as the Autism Acceptance Project (TAAProject.com).
70. Train travel
Cary Grant–style travel plus Buck Rogers speed? Sounds good to us: Californians have okayed a $10 billion high-speed rail network from SoCal to the Bay Area and Sacramento. It's a start.
71. Breast cancer survival rates
Keep kneading those breasts, ladies: A recent report from the American Cancer Society found that since 1990, breast cancer mortality rates have been steadily dropping—by 2 percent a year among women 50 and older, and by 3.2 percent a year among women younger than 50; we all have early detection, healthier lifestyle choices, and improved cancer treatments to thank.
72. Book titles
How can you not pick up Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, A Better Angel, and You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!? Not to mention (okay, let's mention) Someone Will Be with You Shortly: Notes from a Perfectly Imperfect Life, by O's own Lisa Kogan, due out in March.
73. Street food
What do you get when you combine a generation of consumers raised on grab-and-go meals with an influx of cooks too impatient (or talented) to work their way up through professional kitchens? Street food: handmade gourmet meals—crepes, Asian dumplings, tamales, bratwurst, cupcakes—made to be passed through the window of a truck and eaten while walking down the sidewalk.
74. Urban greenery
Trees are sprouting up everywhere in cities across the land—L.A. has planted more than 200,000 in the past three years, and New York City aims to plant one million across the five boroughs over the next decade. And look, up in the sky: More than six million square feet of green roofs were installed in U.S. cities in 2008. So much for the concrete jungle.
75. Animal shelters
Not all that long ago, 17 million abandoned dogs and cats were euthanized in the USA each year; today that number hovers around five million. Much of the credit goes to the advocacy movement No More Homeless Pets (Network.bestfriends.org), which creates rescue networks and educates the public.