This has been a good year, aside from all the bad stuff that happened, and next year is going to be even better. I'm editing my perceptions on the cusp of the New Year so I won't drag too much negativity across the temporal boundary.

This has been a good year, aside from all the bad stuff that happened, and next year is going to be even better.

I’m editing my perceptions on the cusp of the new year so I won’t drag too much negativity across the temporal boundary.

And it works. Positive thoughts work miracles, but not if they are constructed from thin air. They make life better only if they are concrete.

That idea was reinforced for me this year when I interviewed a couple of researchers from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. They measure the results of practices such as making a daily list of the things you are thankful for, or like smiling, or doing something good for someone else.

Those habits make life better for the person who practices them and for folks near them.

That doesn’t mean ignoring problems is the path to contentment. It’s quite the opposite. Some of the happiest people I know are the ones who actively do something about whatever bothers them.

I met a lot of those people this year.

Take Dr. Stephen Bezruchka of the University of Washington School of Public Health, whose concern about access to health care grew into an understanding of the many ways inequality damages societies.

Last January he introduced Seattle to his friends the British researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, who are attacking inequality with hard data compiled in a book called, “The Spirit Level.” Bezruchka is stirring the pot locally. Visit depts.washington.edu/eqhlth.

Children are hurt most by inequality and sometimes I think we just don’t care enough to make a way out for them.

But I felt better after a visit with the impassioned staff of Partners for Our Children, which joins public and private money and leadership to improve this state’s child-welfare system.

This year I met a lot of people who not only care deeply about all of our children, but who are smart about how to make the lives of young people better.

Seattle and Washington state are fortunate to have leaders in business, government and philanthropy who embrace outcome-based solutions to our problems.

Sure, we have some dunderheads too, but I keep coming across good people, and that makes me hopeful when I think about our challenges.

I see people in all walks of life doing good.

Vicky Thomas, the choir director at Seattle’s First Baptist Church, used music to raise money for homeless children. If you’re feeling down about getting older, you should have met Eileen Allen, who at 91 published a book full of wisdom, “I Like Being Old: A Guide to Making the Most of Aging.” I left her apartment feeling young. I talked with Diana Albertson, who gave an African family a place to stay and wound up with an extended family. It was a pleasure to sit with Jim Owens, who turned his love of fishing into a national program, C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation, that gets children with disabilities out on the water.

And I saw all kinds of volunteers. I met Jeane Cook and Kim Nakamura, who spent three decades volunteering at Beacon Hill International School. And I spoke with Nature Consortium volunteers sweating to clear a section of the West Duwamish Greenbelt on a July day that set a heat record.

Lots of other names and faces are flooding back from the past 12 months, reminding me that behind the headlines, there are a lot of people quietly doing good in our communities.

It has been a good year in that way.

Of course, even as we hold on to the good, many of us carry forward some burden that can’t be shed, especially the loss of friends and family who won’t see 2011.

This year my family and friends said goodbye to Diggy, who had a passion for learning; Cheng, who laid a strong foundation for her children before dying far too young; Charles, on whose ears I often laid my burdens; Mickey, who taught me to ride a bike; and Cathy, who gave everyone the gift of her honesty.

We who knew you are blessed to take the lessons you taught into a new year.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.