6. Freedom and democracy are spreading. Tunisia went to the polls a few weeks ago, elections are still (in theory) scheduled in Egypt, and Libya has finally dealt with the Qaddafis. The road from autocracy to stable democracy is rarely free of twists and potholes, but at least large parts of the Middle East and North Africa have at last begun the journey; perhaps Burma won't be far behind. And that's good news for the United States, because democracies really do fight less often.
7. Social networking is bringing us all closer together. Tweets alone may not be responsible for the Arab Spring, but they did help organize it -- and spread news about what was happening (without YouTube, the violence in Syria would be a matter of unconfirmed reports). Meanwhile, advances in communications technologies are strengthening relationships across the globe. So, even if they can't sit down at the same table this week, the families of 214 million international migrants worldwide -- and the millions more who have moved around within their home countries -- can talk to their loved ones at a fraction of the old cost: a few cents per minute from the United States to Africa, for example, compared to dollars only a decade or so ago. And America -- a land that celebrates its immigrant heritage this week -- should be particularly happy about this; closer communications leads to more trade and investment, making people better off both here and abroad.
8. Money is not just stuck in big banks. On the strength of the same technologies, global remittances have climbed from $132 to $440 billion over the course of the past decade. With advances in mobile banking and ID technology, it is possible to directly transfer cash to more and more of the world's most disadvantaged people -- providing a straightforward way to end global poverty at an affordable price.
9. Technology really does make our lives better, and longer. 2011 was the year that research suggested we may be closing in on a powerful AIDS vaccine, that we came even closer to the global annihilation of polio, and that we learned renewable energy investment in the developing world had outstripped such investments in rich countries. Alongside strong economic growth in developing countries and the spread of peace, democracy, and learning, continued technological advances will underpin a healthier, wealthier, more stable, and more sustainable world in the years ahead.
10. And to conclude with what Thanksgiving is all about: There are more families and more people to be friends with than ever before. This year the world's population crossed the seven billion mark. That's seven billion people to share a meal with and 14 billion shoulders to cry on when the basting gets to be too much. What's more, World Values Survey data suggests this bigger global population is overwhelmingly content. In China and India, over three-quarters of the population claimed to be quite happy or very happy. In Brazil, it was 90 percent. The vast majority of the planet is glad to be here -- and we should be glad, too. To be sure, we face the challenge of moving the world onto a more sustainable path of consumption. (Do your part: skip the second helping of pumpkin pie.) But combined with the global spread of education, a larger population means there are far, far more potential geniuses like Norman Borlaug or Maurice Hilleman out there who can help create solutions to that challenge.
Give thanks this week for those near and dear to you, then, and also for a world in which there are more people who are leading a higher quality of life than ever before in recorded history. But while there are few people worldwide less fortunate today than there were last year or the year before, there are still far too many living lives of unnecessary suffering. So, before the tryptophan haze sets in, spare a thought for what you and your country can do to make the world an even better place next year.