It was a year that tested the patience of many. Economic troubles, unemployment, rancorous elections -- and to top it off, gasoline hit $3 a gallon just in time for the holidays.
But through it all, there was still so much more that delighted and inspired people across the globe.
And that's not all. Here are a handful of our favorite positive stories of 2010.
1. These Kids Are All Right
Young people continued to amaze us with their selflessness and passion. We came across so many kids with an inspirational sense of mission that we had trouble selecting just a few.
There was Katie Stagliano, a sixth-grader from Summerville, S.C., whose nonprofit, Katie's Krops, has delivered more than a ton of vegetables to soup kitchens. She tends six gardens -- including a football-sized plot given to her by her school -- that supply produce to food pantries.
Through his Little Red Wagon foundation, Zach has made advocating for homeless youth his personal mission. This September, Zach completed a 2,478-mile March Across America, which took him from Tampa to Los Angeles and took him more than five months. Just days after finishing the walk, Zach started directing a mini-documentary about ending homelessness for the estimated 1.3 million young people living without shelter in America.
In the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, government agencies, large corporations and relief organizations all mobilized, but in an atmosphere of accusations and recriminations. One 11-year-old girl on Long Island set about saving birds with her paintbrush.
When bird-lover Olivia Bouler heard about the spill, she contacted the Audubon Society and asked if she could help raise money for the cleanup effort with her bird paintings. Thus began her "Save the Gulf" campaign, where she sent an original watercolor to anyone who made a donation.
"I really needed to do something," Olivia said.
When AOL heard about her efforts, it teamed up with the young painter, making her one of its AOL Artists and together raising $150,000 for Audubon.
2. Homeless Man Rescues Flag and Inspires Nation
On July 4 -- Independence Day -- a story broke about a seemingly mundane act in El Paso, Texas. At night in a driving rainstorm, a man picked up a fallen American flag outside a building and folded it, almost tenderly, military style.
The flag's caretaker was determined to be Gustus Bozarth, a homeless man who left his makeshift shelter when he saw Old Glory on the ground. Soon his story spread and a grateful nation was singing Bozarth's praises. "Gustus is not just a patriot, but a man with a loving heart," wrote Juliane Higgitt of San Pedro, Calif., on a Facebook page devoted to him.
3. Christian Church and Islamic Center Share Faith and Friendship
As Florida pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn a pile of Korans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Christians and Muslims in Tennessee gave the world an example of true brotherhood. When pastor Steve Stone heard an Islamic center bought land adjacent to his church in Cordova, Tenn., his congregation put up a sign that read: "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood."
And when the center was still under construction as the holy month of Ramadan approached, Heartsong offered the use of their church. Heartsong's members even assisted during Muslim prayer services to learn more about the once-foreign religion.
"We were just trying to be good neighbors and practice the tenets of our faith, both Muslims and Christians," said Memphis Islamic Center trustee and communications director Danish Siddiqui.
4. Secret Altruist Agent Reveals Her True Identity
She operated for months as "Secret Agent L," leaving small treats around Pittsburgh, just for the fun of delighting others.
She'd put flowers under car windshield wipers, leave a necklace in a public bathroom and litter the city with cards on Valentine's Day. Soon she had a network of 80 "agents" nationwide performing acts of kindness.
She came out of anonymity in July on her one-year anniversary at a charitable event that raised more than $1,500 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Laura Miller is continuing her secret-agenting on her website and is always looking for ways to get her message of happiness-spreading heard.
5. Ultra-Runner With Prosthetic Leg Conquers Running World
"Death Valley Jack," 75, was the oldest runner at the Badwater this year. In the 30 years since he started running, Denness has completed more than 150 marathons and ultramarathons around the globe, including in Niger, India, Mauritania and Morocco. He first took on Death Valley in 1991.
He's finished the race 11 times since then.
Then there is Guy Fessenden.
Fessenden, 54, set off in October to run 100 marathons in 140 days, from Savannah, Ga., to Los Angeles.
His love for his daughter is keeping him going. Fessenden is raise awareness for people suffering from mental illness; his daughter, 28, was diagnosed with schizophrenia 12 years ago.
"I'm outraged over the way people with mental illness are treated in America. ... It's time to educate the public and stop ignoring it," Fessenden told AOL News.
Amy Palmiero-Winters understands disability. She is the first amputee to be named to the USA Track and Field team. Now 37, she was 21 when she severely damaged her left foot in a motorcycle crash.
Running was always a comfort and constant in her life, so Palmiero-Winters just kept going, running the day before one of her children was born and competing in her first triathlon two months after the birth of the other.
But it was when she met prosthetist Erik Schaffer that she was able to tackle 100-mile runs. He provides her running blades, which can cost at least $25,000 each.
"One of the hardest things in life is to believe in yourself. When you step into a situation where someone else believes in you and your abilities, it makes things so much easier," she said.
6. Off-Ramp Comic Gives Motorists One for the Road
When the only comedy club in Davenport, Iowa, closed, comedian Don Hepner took to telling jokes on highway off-ramps. Not because he needed the money -- but because he needed somewhere to practice his material.
Still, he's managing to earn about $20 an hour telling oldies but goodies like "I went to a really small high school. How small? They taught driver's ed and sex ed in the same car."
Hepner's taking a hiatus from his spot along the highway until the weather gets warmer, though. "I'm not going to stand there in the winter and freeze off my punch lines," he told AOL News.
7. Superman Saves Home From Foreclosure
It's a dream many Americans have had in this time of record home foreclosures. A long-lost relative dies, leaving a fortune. Or the lottery, maybe.
"It's the world's most valuable comic book," Stephen Fishler, CEO of ComicConnect and Metropolic Collectibles, told AOL News. "Before this book came out, there was no such thing as a superhero or a guy in a costume.
"It's not this esoteric thing. It's the center of pop culture, the publication of this book." Fishler himself got on the phone with the bank and convinced it to hold off until the book -- which he estimated was worth $250,000 -- could be auctioned.
"You couldn't have asked for a happier ending," Vincent Zurzolo, Fishler's business partner, said. "Superman saved the day."
8. Parents Build Haitian Orphanage to Fulfill Daughter's Last Wish
College student Britney Gengel was doing volunteer work in Haiti when she e-mailed these words to her mother back in Massachusetts on Jan. 12: "[The Haitian people] love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself."
Hours later the magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit, devastating the island nation and killing more than 200,000 people, including Britney.
Her parents are coping with their loss by carrying on with Britney's wish. They founded the Be Like Brit nonprofit to serve the children of Haiti. Boston-based architect Paul Fallon is donating his services to design the B-shaped building, which will house 33 orphans and will be run by an as-yet-unidentified faith-based organization.
Last month the Gengels road-tripped down to Miami, collecting donated construction supplies along the way to ship to Haiti.
"She was just so content. She had figured it out," her father, Len Gengel, told AOL News about his last communication with his daughter. "This is what she wanted to do with the rest of her life."
9. Share Photos, Love the Gulf
Americans everywhere were heartbroken when tar balls started to wash up on beaches this summer, but none more so than the residents who call the Gulf Coast their home. Days before Pensacola Beach was closed in the wake of the oil spill, Florida travel writer and blogger Maria Mora posted a photo of her son Simon on the beach.
With that, Mora started "Love the Gulf," a Flickr group where people could share in the beauty, and vulnerability, of the gulf region.
The Flickr photo group was an offshoot of the Love the Gulf Blog Carnival, a Web gathering of 100-plus bloggers sharing posts they had written about the gulf, created by blogger Deb Rox. Mora described the Flickr group as a grassroots-level reminder of the oil spill tragedy.
The bloggers hoped to encourage tourism, too.
"Go put your feet in the water," Mora advised potential vacationers. "You just can't help but feel something."
10. Laid-Off American Gives Away $10 a Day for a Year
It's counterintuitive, when one is out of work, to give away money. But Reed Sandridge heeded the words he once heard from his late mother: When you're going through tough times, that's when you most need to give back.
The 36-year-old's day job became walking around Washington, D.C., trying to convince people to take $10 from him. He chronicled what the recipients did with their $10 on his blog, Year of Giving.
In the process, he met a cast of characters that have changed his life while staving off the out-of-work blues. "[My project] really psychologically helped me. It made me feel great about myself," Sandridge said.
After 285 days of unemployment, Sandridge landed a job, but he finished the Year of Giving. And he hopes others will continue the giving pledge he stared. He says he'll continue his good work by volunteering one day a week for the next year.
11. French, American Medieval Castles Rise by Hand
This is the story that had us talking for weeks. It doesn't involve anyone heroically raising money to fight a disease or completing a feat of endurance or an act of altruism. It's simply an awesome story.
To breathe life into the plans, the team even created a fictional nobleman of the Middle Ages, Guilbert, whose low rank and limited finances led to his decision to build a castle on a small scale.
The castle, which is about halfway complete and slated for completion in 2025, is already attracting tourists.
For curious medieval-loving Americans without the means to visit Burgundy, a counterpart is being constructed in Arkansas. The Ozark Medieval Fortress, which, when completed will be the only 13th-century castle on American soil, opened to the public in May.