Dec. 27, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET
From acts of kindness to triumphs of love, TODAY readers had plenty to smile about in 2013. Culled from the dozens of uplifting and inspiring Good News features we've reported over the past 12 months, here are the lucky 13 stories that moved you most:
1. When Billy Ray Harris, a 55-year-old homeless man, returned the engagement ring that Sarah Darling had accidentally dropped in his cup along with some change, he got far more than the money the ring would have brought him: He reconnected with the family he hadn't seen in 16 years, and received more than $175,000 from supporters to find a new home. Six months later, he'd turned his life around.
2. Shortly after the 12th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, a freckle-faced boy walked into a police station in Greenfield, Wis., announced he wanted to make a donation, and handed over $10.03 in loose change. The Greenfield police wanted to thank him — but they had to do some detective work to track down 11-year-old Max Siepert, whose grandfather was a Milwaukee police officer killed in the line of duty.
3. Before going to the hospital to give birth to her fourth child, Racquel Cloutier of Laguna Niguel, Calif., hid her diamond ring in a watch box, never suspecting that her husband would unknowingly sell the box at a garage sale for $5. He thought they'd never see it again — but with the help of a local news station, an honest couple, and some missing car keys, she got back the ring, worth $23,000.
4. "I had the worst day ever," is how 28-year-old Chris Tuttle described it when a female customer complained he was working too slowly at an upstate New York supermarket. His sister put a post about the incident on Facebook, hoping to solicit a few comments of support for Chris, who has Asperger's syndrome. Instead, he got thousands of messages of support plus handshakes and hugs from strangers.
5. Video surveillance footage showed a break-in at Buddy's Small Lots in Wayne, N.J., in August: Four young men entering and leaving with several items in hand. But a closer look revealed that the quartet left exact payment (including tax) at the register. It turned out they were freshman football players at William Paterson University who, due to a broken lock and a glitch in the lighting system, had entered the store thinking it was open for business. Store managers gave the four $50 worth of free merchandise for their honesty.
6. In 1932, John and Ann Betar eloped to Harrison, N.Y., fleeing their close-knit Syrian neighborhood in Connecticut before Ann's father could marry her off to a man 20 years older. Fast forward to just last month, when the "longest married couple" in America, according to Worldwide Marriage Encounter, celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. "The key is to always agree with your wife," John advised.
7. Betsy Boys, 29, knew she'd been adopted at birth and often thought about seeking out her birth mother — but she never did anything about it until she saw a TODAY segment about how Dr. Nancy Snyderman's adoptive daughter found her birth mother. That gave her the courage to reach out on Facebook with some childhood photos and a just a few details, and within 36 hours, she discovered her birth mother, a half brother and other relatives living nearby.
8. Juan Dominguez lost both his legs and his right arm serving as a Marine corporal in Afghanistan in 2010. But that didn't stop him from finding the love of his life when he returned to the States — or from dancing with her at a dream wedding thrown for them in the small Southern California City of Temecula. Roughly $30,000 to $35,000 worth of goods and services were donated to the happy couple.
9. In a 4-minute YouTube video that warmed hearts around the world, a friendly golden Labrador retriever gently overcomes the reticence of a toddler with Down syndrome to earn a hug from the boy. The video was posted from Buenos Aires by the boy's mother, who explained that the child's condition causes him to usually shy away from physical contact.
10. Roger Boddie, principal of Hingham Middle School in Massachusetts, thought he was just taking a tour of a campus construction site when his students surprised him with an epic flash mob to mark his retirement. The touching video has drawn nearly a million hits on YouTube.
11. When Rusty Jones heard that a diamond engagement and wedding ring set was available on Craigslist in exchange for tickets to a football game, "I was a little skeptical," he told TODAY.com. But the deal was real, and he gave six tickets to a Chiefs-Broncos game to a woman who was selling her rings from a previous marriage. The seller "seemed very happy," said Jones, who wanted the rings to surprise his girlfriend with a proposal.
12. Texas police officer Ann Carrizales had a feeling something was wrong when she pulled over a car just outside Houston at 3 a.m. Within seconds, the front-seat passenger leaned over and shot her twice: once in the bulletproof vest that likely saved her life, and once in the face. Yet she still chased the bad guys nearly 20 miles. “You can’t shoot me and drive away," she said. "It’s not allowed.”
13. When filmmaker Michael Galinsky went looking in a desk drawer one day in 2010, he'd all but forgotten about the photos he'd taken in malls across America back in 1989. What he found has since enabled people across the country to relive the '80s — even finding themselves or loved ones in his images — and, with some help from Kickstarter, has spawned a book.