If you’ve got a good follower game, Twitter can be an incredible platform for content discovery. Over time, you start to ‘trust’ certain accounts. Certain avatars. Certain people. Some of which you’ve met in real life, others of which you haven’t but feel like you’ve known forever. When the content curation is really working, Twitter replaces the need for additional web research and surfaces some great recommendations.

Two of my favorite Twitter follows when it comes to book recommendations are Patrick O’Shaughnessy and Morgan Housel. I found Patrick through Morgan, or perhaps Morgan through Patrick, but the origin story isn’t important. What is important has been their influence on what I’ve read recently. Patrick finds time to read 2-3 hours per day. [They should both sign up as Amazon affiliates and start pocketing the referral fees; my link clicks alone would be enough to fund a few power finance lunches for each of them per year.]

A recent suggestion from my virtual book club mates, Factfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Thinkhas really impressed me. It is the work of the late Swedish academic Hans Rosling, in collaboration with his son and daughter-in-law, and tests our perspective – the way we view the world – through data, and global trends.

I’m an optimist by nature, but it’s clear from Rosling’s work that one thing most humans miss in life is hanging out in the ‘gray’ area. We’re too optimistic or too pessimistic. We’re living too much in the extremes, the edges. We’re missing some nuance. If you’ve scrolled through a social media news feed or caught a glimpse of a political TV show in recent years, I think you would agree that Rosling isn’t too far off…

And in Factfulness he approaches this phenomenon so brilliantly, with a concept he calls “Bad and Better.” He illustrates the concept through the description of a premature baby in an incubator:

The baby’s health status is extremely bad, and her breathing, heart rate, and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all relax and not worry? No, not at all. Is it helpful to have to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. . . . That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

Both bad and better. Rosling’s imagery is so striking and simple. What resonates with me is the emphasis on progress, on context, on small wins.

Getting stuck in the dark or stuck in the light are both glaring but we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge the gray area.

I just finished Michael Lewis’ new book The Undoing Project – on the trailblazing Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their life’s work. It’s certainly no Moneyball, or Shoe Dog, but it’s a good read.

And nestled in between the fascinating origins of behavioral economics and Big Data, I landed on a pretty simple yet powerful passage:

“Amos was not merely an optimist; Amos willed himself to be optimistic, because he had decided pessimism was stupid. When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice, Amos liked to say. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.

At the beginning of a New Year, or new semester, or new job, it’s easier to be optimistic. Easier to make a resolution or two. Jot down a list of goals. But it’s tougher when you’re down…

In 2008, just days after SpaceX had suffered it’s third straight rocket launch failure, Elon Musk was interviewed by Wired’s Carl Hoffman. Musk was asked, “How do you maintain your optimism?” and he replied, “Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen.”

Here’s what I definitely don’t have – Musk’s brilliance or Tversky’s brilliance. There are very few that have walked this earth (or Mars, in Musk’s dreams) with their vision or intellectual prowess. But I can’t help but agreeing with Tversky that optimism can be willed. It’s not off limits. Not reserved for those with a certain IQ, who graduated from a certain school, possess a certain title, or sit in a certain office. Doesn’t cost a penny.

And maybe optimism is contagious, like a strong winter cold. It’s easy to be up when we’re feeling fit, well rested, at the start of the year, like a big smiley face on a sticky note. It’s much more difficult when we’re vulnerable, down, or sick. But those are the times when optimism is most important.

So if Tversky’s or Musk’s words aren’t quite infectious enough on their own, they are at least a platform from which to build. To build that will that Tversky possessed. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for others like them – looking to catch a bit of optimism, and will a bit of it too.