It can be easy to let our thoughts wander to dark places, allow time to pass by unused and put important things off until tomorrow. We get mired down in the extraneous and the uncontrollable: politics, headlines, empty entertainment.
Our brains, after all, are predisposed to negativity. Our attention is drawn to it, like an addict to his next fix.
However, we can reclaim our attention, and our ability to do deep, meaningful work. We can conjure up new thoughts and build/strengthen new neural pathways that shift our perspective in positive ways.
In Book 3 of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, he writes:
Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You'll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they're saying, and what they're thinking [...] you need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant."
So many have of us have lost our ability to shepherd our thinking, to impose our own filters on it, and to see pessimistic thoughts, media, and gossip for what they are: junk-food for your brain.
We've temporarily let go of the reins. It's okay, it happens. But we can (and should) pick them up again. And steer a course towards a happier, more optimistic mind.
It begins with awareness: of speech, thoughts, actions, and habits. It also begins with asking the right questions: are these thoughts helpful? Are the words that I am speaking guided by compassion? What intimations of light and goodness can I find, if I looked hard enough, in this person/event/situation?
What can I do to be more grateful today?
You affect people more than you may think. You are part of a network, and your moods, states, and behaviours touch many people—including those you don't even know.
Like you would the muscles of your body, you can strengthen your gratitude, your attention, your awareness of the good things in life. But only if you want to.
You can do it for yourself. You can do it for others.
But whatever you do, don't miss out on focusing in on the things that make life great.