One side effect of technology, unfortunately, has been the constant stream of news that we carry around in our pockets, almost all of which is bad. But that hasn't dampened the outlook of one of the most successful tech visionaries ever.

Bill Gates remains a staunch optimist, and while you might be quick to credit his net worth with his rosy outlook on life, Gates has some great points that aren't backed up by his billions -- they're supported by data.

In a recent issue of MIT Technology Review, Gates shared:

"Yes, I am optimistic. It does bother me that most people aren't. In my own life I've been extremely lucky. But even subtracting out my personal experience, I think the big picture is that it's better to be born today than ever, and it will be better to be born 20 years from now than today."

What makes it so much better?

In an article he wrote for TIME magazine, he laid out a few reasons. Between 1990 and 2015, the mortality rate for children under 5 was cut in half. "That means 122 million children have been saved in a quarter-century, and countless families have been spared the heartbreak of losing a child... In 1990, more than a third of the global population lived in extreme poverty; today only about a tenth do," said Gates.

Many more metrics support his claim, including the shrinking number of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S., the growing support for the LGBTQ movement around the globe, and the attention that's finally being given to sexual assault in communities everywhere.

Optimism is often dismissed as false hope.

Like many billionaires, Bill Gates could live his entire life in a bubble of his own design. If he wanted to, he could go from the boardroom to a helicopter and step out straight onto his perfectly manicured lawn without ever seeing the world as it really is. Instead, he's gone directly into some of the darkest and most difficult places in the world in an attempt to understand them and create meaningful change.

In an address to Stanford's 2014 graduating class, Gates told a story about visiting a crowded South African hospital for patients with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis -- more than 50 percent of whom would not survive. Instead of erasing his optimism, this vision of hell only strengthened it.

"This year, we're entering phase three with a new TB drug regime. For patients who respond, instead of a 50 percent cure rate after 18 months for $2,000, we could get an 80-90 percent cure rate after six months for under $100," said Gates. "That's better by a factor of a hundred. Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness."

Don't confuse optimism with naivety.

There is reason to be optimistic about the world we live in and the world our children will inherit, but optimism alone is not enough.

Gates' wife Melinda also took part in the commencement address at Stanford, and she sent a powerful message that optimism requires action: "Optimism for me isn't a passive expectation that things will get better; it's a conviction that we can make things better -- that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is, we can help people if we don't lose hope, and we don't look away."

If you're looking for a lesson that you can apply in your own life, it couldn't be clearer: Believe in the possibilities the future holds -- and don't ever look away.

Published on: Nov 14, 2019
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