March 23, 2023 | View this edition in your browser.
 Welcome to What Could Go Right?, where we won’t see you next week, as one member of our two-person newsletter team takes a much-needed vacation. We’ll be back in your inboxes April 6

“A surge in benevolence”: the pandemic in the rear-view mirror
Now that we have had a little space from the acute phase of the pandemic, some more positive news stories about it are coming to light. Here are two of them.

First, the World Happiness Report—based on interviews with more than 100,000 people from 137 countries—just came out, and worldwide, people were remarkably resilient during the Covid-19 era. People rated their lives, on average, the same during the Covid years of 2020–22 as they did in 2017–19. There was even a “globe-spanning surge of benevolence” in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, benevolent acts like donating, volunteering, and helping a stranger were still up about a quarter over pre-pandemic times. And, contrary to the many, deeply sad stories we heard about how lonely we all were, the report also says that “positive social environments were far more prevalent than loneliness.” 

The increase in benevolent acts in 2020, 2021, and 2022 compared to 2017-2019. | Chart: World Happiness Report

And since everyone always asks which country is the happiest, it’s Finland again, for the sixth year in a row. Among the top 20, the only change to the group—although rankings within it have shifted—is Lithuania, which rocketed up 30 spots since 2017 to reach twentieth place. The country with the smallest difference between the most happy and the least happy? The Netherlands (which is the fifth happiest in total). The United States is number 15. You can see if your country is in the top 20 here.

Second, it’s looking like long Covid is less of a widespread problem, and less severe, than we thought. For those who do suffer from its baffling and unrelenting symptoms of brain fog, pain, and fatigue, it remains a serious and debilitating issue. But early research pointed, on the high end, to a third of Covid-positive people ending up with long Covid. New research, however, has found the previous research to be flawed, and suggests two things, writes science journalist Jeff Wise in Slate: that most patients’ long Covid symptoms “resolve in less than a year,” and those whose symptoms continue beyond that are a “very small percentage.” Considering that during the height of Covid, some were expecting a wide swathe of the American public to become disabled, this is very good news.

One quick mention: the opioid epidemic
Given the US’ longstanding opioid epidemic, I have been keeping an eye out for any progress on the topic, and let me tell you, it is hard to come by. Our team spotted this item, though, in the newsletter of our friends at Future Crunch: drug overdose deaths in the US may be plateauing or dipping—it’s hard to tell, since the 2022 data is still provisional.

The solid lines are reported deaths based on provisional data, and the dots are predicted deaths, broken out by drug class. Opioids is the black line; synthetic opioids, the brown; and heroin, blue. | Chart: CDC
We’ll keep checking back on that, but as the Future Crunch newsletter put it, it’s the first encouraging sign we have seen.

Before we go
Three drug treatments for cystic fibrosis (CF) have so altered the future of children diagnosed with the condition that the Make-A-Wish Foundation has decided not to offer wishes for it automatically anymore. Instead, wishes will be given on a case-by-case basis since many patients with CF now “lead long, healthy lives.” This whole story is a tearjerker.

Below in the links section, baby sharks (doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo—sorry), GPT-4, cosmic concrete, and more.

—Emma Varvaloucas

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There's been a lot in the news about declines in maternal mortality stalling or reversing in some parts of the world, including the US, since around 2016. That is both true and not good. But it is also true (and good) that the global maternal mortality rate fell by 34 percent overall between 2000 and 2020. | Chart: GZERO
Keep the global surge of benevolence going.
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Entangled with Isaac Saul | S4 E6
Are we as divided as we think we are? Is it possible to move out of our political and news silos? And is there a way to re-establish trust in the media? Isaac Saul, the founder of Tangle News, shares his effort to offer truly bipartisan journalism. Plus, what's going on with Silicon Valley Bank, fentanyl test strips, and declassified Covid information? | Listen to the episode
Progress, Please
(Found good news? Tweet at us @progressntwrk or email.)
Other good stuff in the news 

Energy & Environment: Science & Tech: Politics & Policy: Public Health: Economy: TPN Member originals  
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
Department of Ideas 
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat and Being Thin? | The New Yorker
A popular, growing class of drugs for obesity and diabetes could, in an ideal world, help us see that metabolism and appetite are biological facts, not moral choices.

Why we picked it: Life-changing medicine or plaything for the rich, the famous, and the already thin? One of my favorite writers, Jia Tolentino, reckons with the new class of drugs for obesity and diabetes—that actually work. —Emma Varvaloucas
New Member Alert
Danielle Allen is a professor at Harvard, democracy advocate, author, and mom. Her work to make the world better for young people has taken her from teaching college and leading a $60 million university division to driving change at the helm of a $6 billion foundation; writing a column on constitutional democracy for The Washington Post; advocating for cannabis legalization, democracy reform, and civic education; publishing numerous books on justice and citizenship; and running for governor of Massachusetts.
Until next Thursday, "this is fine." 

Zachary Karabell | Founder 
 Emma Varvaloucas | Executive Director 
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Past Progress
Previously on What Could Go Right?
  • Media CBT: A therapy-inspired strategy to help solve Gen Z’s mental health crisis (March 16, 2023)
  • Better money—and a baby? Two improvements for high- and low-wage American workers from the Covid-19 pandemic (March 9, 2023)
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Hey, thanks for making it down this far. Here's a baby emu.