Texas Optimism Project

Conversations on Optimism

Lukas + Micah Nelson
Optimism + Habits


Contrary to popular belief, optimism is neither intrinsic nor a passive disposition. In fact, optimism—choosing to look favorably at what’s possible in any situation—is a choice, a way of seeing the world, an active approach to living life that has real and tangible benefits.

We know this trait well in Texas, and at Texas Monthly. Perennial optimists seem to flock to Texas and to have outsize impact on the state, from the wildcatters of West Texas, to astronauts and engineers in mission control, to surgeons who pioneer ever more daring life-saving techniques.

The fact is, optimism is something we can cultivate—and that mindset can reshape the trajectory of our lives. In one of the earliest studies of optimism and its effects, Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, found that insurance salespeople with optimistic outlooks not only made more sales—by 37 percent—but were also more likely to keep their job.

That’s why we’re examining optimism in Texas today. Across the state, everyday people are forging their own futures. Are you ready to put optimism to work for you?


How optimistic are you?

Optimism is a practice you can use to improve your health, happiness, and your finances. And researchers agree. Those who stick to a positive outlook and act on it have better cardiovascular health, are more likely to live longer, less likely to be depressed, and better able to respond to the unexpected, like losing a job. Are you giving yourself the benefits of optimism?

Take The Quiz!

The house your real estate agent shows you is a real fixer-upper—but it has real potential. You love the neighborhood, but you’re worried about the sweat (and financial) equity you’ll have to invest, especially since the leaky roof would pose a huge problem. What’s your first reaction?

You run a small business, and it’s growing more quickly than you expected. It’s clear you need to move to a bigger facility, but you may need a loan to afford a new space. Most of your employees want more space, but some are worried it might stretch the business too thin. What do you think?

Your friend Sam is meeting you for coffee. He’s taking out a loan, quitting his job, and trying to start his own business. It’s a big risk, but he’s confident he has a million-dollar idea. He wants your advice.

Selena has a job offer across the state. It’s a great opportunity, but it might be a tough transition, especially for her family. Her friend Davy thinks the move Is too expensive and too disruptive. What do you tell Selena?

Your first job after college pays the student loan bills, but you’ve been passed over for a promotion more than once. You know if you stay much longer, you’ll start resenting it, but if you switch careers to something you enjoy more, you’ll also take a big pay cut. What should you do?

Doing Good

You’re staying balanced. Keeping an optimistic spirit isn’t easy, and you’re working at it. Check out how a few fellow Texans are using optimism to improve their lives, and make sure to sign up for the Good Newsletter to help you stay on track. While you're at it, listen to this playlist of feel-good music from some of our favorite Texas artists.


You’re an optimist! With planning and hard work, optimism can make your life better. Get inspired with our biweekly newsletter. We’d also love to learn about your outlook.

A Tad Pessimistic

You’re a bit pessimistic. But that’s okay! Life can be tough sometimes, we get it. That’s why we’ve put together a playlist of feel-good music from some of our favorite Texas artists. And while you’re jamming along, consider putting a little positivity in your inbox with our Goodnewsletter. And stay tuned for our 30-day Optimism Challenge, launching this summer.

In the meantime, here are a few tips and tricks to help you be more optimistic:

  • Have appreciative conversations
  • Organize your home and your schedule
  • Reduce your media consumption
  • Share what you have with others
  • Do your best to create “win-win” situations
  • Look for positives in every loss
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Keep a gratitude journal

Optimism can change lives. That change doesn’t come through wishing for better things, but working for them. It’s what Texans do every day, when they choose to try something new, to start a new project at work, buy a home, start a business, or start a family. What’s more, optimism isn’t just an innate trait. Everyone can adopt an outlook of success.

It’s what Texans have done for generations. People have always come to Texas in search of something. In fact, many of those who shaped our modern state were hoping to escape dire circumstances—debt, famine, religious persecution, or a lack of economic opportunity. Many of the concerns that seem to dominate modern life weighed on our forebearers, too.

It’s still happening right now, right here in Texas. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s largest small business organization, reports that optimism among small businesses is at record levels. In Texas, that’s translating into investments in new technology, higher wages, and new hires. At the same time, the payroll services provider Paychex reports growing rates of entrepreneurship nationwide, linking positive views of the future of small business with real economic growth. Even in the midst of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, small businesses charged ahead, putting positivity into practice.

Texas is a top destination for businesses large and small, and cities across the United States are incubating successful enterprises. Austin has been a top startup city for years, and Houston’s making huge investments in boosting the digital and tech economy. The top four cities in the nation for income growth are all in Texas, and Frisco leads the nation in job growth. Believing in opportunity, and taking it, is good for the bottom line, for businesses and communities, as well as individuals.

What optimism looks like in everyday life is not a rosy outlook, but resilience.

It might sound like a lofty idea. But optimism is an everyday practice. Think about the choices you make all the time from the large—buying a new car, switching jobs, or starting a family—to the small, like whether you should go to the gym before work, or a networking event after work.

What optimism looks like in everyday life is not a rosy outlook, but resilience. True optimists believe in a better future, so they work for it. And learning to think optimistically, not like a dreamer, but like a doer, can have lasting effects on our lives.

Do you want to...

Optimists can!

Crucially, making optimism a part of personal success requires taking positive lessons from negative experiences as well as the good. Research by James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin shows that those who find purpose in adversity are more likely to lead healthier lives. Those who analyzed a traumatic event, who mined it for wisdom, were healthier than those who simply vented.

Simple exercises, like reflective writing habits, can help people think critically about the future, and plan for it. Truly optimistic thinking requires follow-through. A positive attitude can lead you to notice more positive things, and therefore more opportunities.

Harvard researchers have found a bevy of health benefits linked to leading an optimistic life, and even found that optimists had an easier time finding new jobs. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that optimists work harder and longer. Optimists take risks—and they back them up. In short, research indicates that optimists are just more resilient. That fact is, people who cultivate optimism are more productive.

The American Psychological Association indicates that workplace stress leads to $500 billion in lost profits annually. Companies that have a positive outlook, on the other hand, can prevent these losses. And the same principle translates to our own personal finances. Optimistic investors see better returns, and those with an optimistic point of view save more, work harder, and stay in their careers longer.

Truly optimistic thinking requires follow through.

Luckily, a positive outlook, one that looks for solutions, can be grown. It’s not just an inherent trait, but a practice. Studies indicate that optimism is only 25 percent genetic—the rest comes from our environment, meaning we can lead an optimistic life, and a more productive one, by looking for opportunities rather than challenges. Sometimes life can weigh us down, and we can respond with optimism.

Like any habit, good or bad, optimism is a behavior as much as a mindset. That means you can build up the habit. Little things like making to-do lists, reflecting on positive things, or learning a new language can all be a part of solutions-oriented, optimistic thinking. Researchers are developing new ways of countering anxiety and depression by helping patients build more positive attitudes.

When you spend the weekend driving around, searching for a better apartment, you’re choosing optimism. When you open a savings account, you’re choosing optimism. When you update your resume, take a class, or go on a first date, you’re choosing optimism.

Are you ready to get started?

Sometimes all it takes is a little perspective. That’s why we’re looking closely at real-life tales of extraordinary optimists—ordinary people who are working to make things better. In conversation with them, we’ll find out what drives an optimist, what it takes to build trust, and how they’ve done it. Along the way, we’ll highlight how you can opt for optimism.

Conversations on Optimism

extraordinary Texans who are putting positivity into practice