AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
This photo made on Jan. 27, 2011, shows a home for sale in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.06% in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

The "dismal science" of economics typically focuses on "bad" news. We clearly face many significant challenges. However, there are also many favorable developments taking place within the U.S. economy. This is our semi-annual update of "Happy Talk." This Tea Leaf focuses ONLY on the "good" news ...

Total U.S. retirement assets rose to $17.5 trillion in 2010, the most since the end of 2007.

During the early 1960s, the five-year survival rate from cancer for Americans was one in three. Today it is two in three ... continuing to climb ... and the highest in the world.

The U.S. accounted for 34% of the funds spent globally on research and development during 2010.

The country's net petroleum imports peaked at 60.3% in 2005 and dropped to 49.3% in 2010. Within a year, North Dakota is expected to supply more oil for domestic use than the 1.1 million barrels a day that Saudi Arabia now exports to the U.S.

The number of violent crimes fell by a surprisingly large 12% last year versus the prior year.

Roughly 80% of companies that suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the past 2-3 years reinstated them in 2010 or 2011.

Sixty of the world's top 100 universities are located in the U.S.

Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.06% in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

Energy-efficient appliances, cars, buildings and other technologies that already exist could lower U.S. energy usage 30% by 2030.

Second quarter 2011 GDP was revised up to a 1.3% real (after inflation) annual rate, versus a 1.0% real annual rate in the prior estimate. Still weak, but better.

The number of American volunteers rose 2.6% to 63.4 million in 2009.

America produces more steel today than 30 years ago, despite the shuttered plants and slimmed-down workforce.

Roughly 47% of science and engineering degrees of those ages 25 to 39 are held by women, compared with 21% among those 65 and older.

Donations to charities rose 3.8% in 2010, with $291 billion donated by individuals, foundations and corporations. As a percentage of GDP, Americans gave twice as much as the next most charitable nation, England. In 1964, there were 15,000 U.S. foundations. By 2001, there were 61,000.

Average U.S. life expectancy has reached 78.2 years (men 75, women 80), the highest ever. This compares to 76 years in 1995, 68 years in 1950, and 47 years in 1900.

Men's contribution to housework has doubled over the past 40 years, while their time spent on child care has tripled.

Roughly 30% of trash was recycled or composted in the latest year, versus 16% in 1990.

When comparing economic size and population, the average U.S. worker is 10-12 times more productive than the average worker in China. Americans won 30 Nobel prizes in science and economics during the past five years. China? Just one.

The value of a university education for American men and women in terms of future earnings power is nearly twice that of those in the average rich nation.

Smoke-free laws in restaurants, bars, the workplace, etc. reduced the rate of heart attacks by an average of 17% after one year in those communities where the bans had been adopted.

U.S. airlines did not have a single fatality last year, the third of the past four years with no deaths.

Even as U.S. economic output (GDP) has climbed by more than 210% since 1970, aggregate emission of six principal air pollutants has plunged by 60%.

Productivity of U.S. workers rose an average of 2.5% annually during the past 10 years, some of the strongest gains in 40 years.

Just 19.3% of adults said they smoked last year, down from about 21% in 2005, versus nearly half of the adult population in the early 1950s.

Women now make up a record 46% of global MBA candidates. More than 70% of students surveyed name the U.S. as the top MBA study destination.

U.S. economic growth has now been positive for eight consecutive quarters.

The upward "mobility" of the typical American remains the greatest in the world. Why? The U.S.economy "rewards" the combination of hard work and educational achievement more than ever before ... and more than any other country in the world.

The U.S. Justice Department said the number of juvenile offenders declined 26% between 2000 and 2008.

Forty-two of the 50 states recorded net job gains during the most recent 12-month period. Every state had previously dealt with recession at some point during the past three years.

U.S. exports to China have risen roughly 24% per year since 2001, making China the fastest-growing market for U.S. goods.

A recent poll of more than 12,000 global business figures conducted by the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. as the world's most competitive economy.

Total U.S. workplace fatalities declined to their lowest point on record last year.

Women now exceed men in holding advanced degrees in the U.S.

Since 2006, the percentage of incoming freshmen who abstain from alcohol has jumped from 38% to 62%.

U.S. traffic deaths per 100 million miles traveled during 2009 were the lowest on record.

For every dollar of U.S. economic output generated today, we burn less than half as much oil as 30 years ago.

An estimated 925 million people worldwide are undernourished, down from slightly more than one billion in 2009. Obviously, more needs to be done.

Substantiated cases of childhood sexual abuse have fallen 49% since 1990. Physical abuse of children is down by 43%.

The divorce rate dropped by one-third between 1981 and 2008, and is at its lowest level since 1970.

The number of people using public transportation recently hit a 52-year high.

Alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the most recently reported year dropped by more than half versus 20 years ago.

Children's deaths from unintentional injury have dropped by almost 40% since 1987. Bicycle deaths fell 60%, while firearms-related deaths fell 72%.

Seat belt usage by Americans was at 85% in 2009, versus 49% in 1990 and 14% in 1983.

A record 30% of men have earned a bachelor's degree or higher, versus 29% of women, also a record. This compares to a combined 7.7% in 1960. A record 85% of adults over age 25 now have at least a high school diploma, versus 24% in 1940.

The U.S. teen birth rate in 2009 fell to its lowest level in nearly 70 years of record keeping. The reasons? More widespread use of birth control and more girls who "just say no."

The U.S. role of dominance in the global economy during the past decade was as clear-cut as at any time since the 1950s.

Jeff Thredgold is the chief economist for Zions Bank and founder of Thredgold Economic Associates, a professional speaking and economic consulting firm. Visit www.thredgold.com.