Moods Change Like the Weather: A gratitude practice for families

(A similar version was published in The Taos News, October 14, 2021)

The human brain seems to have a natural tendency to remember negative experiences more than positive interactions. Psychologists refer to this as negativity bias. “Our brains are wired to scout for the bad stuff and fixate on the threat”, says Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

Our brain is by function and development a very “old” organ. The part of our brain that is the least developed is the amygdala and is responsible for the fight, flight, freeze reaction to emotional experiences. This inner brain was very important when we were hunter-gatherers because we needed to be ever vigilant of threats to our survival. 

Gratitude is a powerful meditation tool for dealing with our changing moods which I describe as our internal weather patterns.

— Anne-Marie Emanuelli

As humans have evolved, this part of the brain has remained essentially undeveloped. On the other hand, the largest part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, has evolved and continues to develop. This frontal area is responsible for many higher-order functions such as perception, sensation, memory, and interpretation. Meditation and mindfulness stimulate this area of the brain as well as the parasympathetic nervous system that originates in the brainstem and is responsible for relaxation. 

Gratitude is a powerful meditation tool for dealing with our changing moods which I describe as our internal weather patterns. When teaching young children about emotions, I encourage describing them as weather such as stormy, cloudy, rainy, and sunny. Young children understand how the weather feels much easier than describing their emotional state. They know “mad, glad & sad” and it’s more challenging for them to describe how they are feeling with more subtle and specific emotional words. Each child perceives their mood differently so “cloudy” for one child may mean feeling introspective while for another could mean lonely. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that by labeling emotions we move the experience out of the amygdala to the frontal cortex which makes it possible for us to bring mindfulness to the emotion. When we practice gratitude we feel kindness and appreciation for our life experiences. Mindfulness can help us notice thoughts and sensations in the present moment.

The more one welcomes gratitude, the more comfortable one can be with feeling emotions. With practice, the change of moods will settle as the heart fills with kindness. The following practice is intended to help children notice moods & emotions, to bring gratitude and awareness to them, and feel a lifting of internal weather patterns.

Family Meditation Practice: This practice uses gratitude and mindfulness to notice and allow emotions to transform.

First, find a comfortable place to sit together as a family. A circle is a nice configuration that generates unity and attention. Choose a person to “lead” the meditation practice. This person will read the instructions as well as participate.
1. Once everyone is comfortable and still, start with some quiet breathing. Can you feel the rhythm of your breath as it flows in and out of the body?
2. While being aware of your breath, bring attention to your heart center. If you’d like, you can put your hands on your heart. Then, notice how you are feeling inside your body.
3. Each person takes a turn sharing how they are feeling today. What kind of weather describes how that feels? Cloudy, sunny, rainy, stormy, windy, etc. Try to visualize the weather swishing through your body. Everyone gets to share what they are feeling and what kind of weather it is.
4. Now everyone gets quiet again and notices their breathing. After a few calming breaths, imagine/visualize something in your heart like a person, a flower, a stuffed animal, or a special place that brings you joy. Continue breathing in and out while you silently feel gratitude for what you have in your heart.  You can say, “I love you” to that image.
5. Continue visualizing the gratitude image while also noticing the weather going around your body.  The weather is swishing around with the gratitude image in the center of the heart.As we continue feeling the “weather pattern” and visualizing the gratitude image, notice how they merge together into something else, like a sunny day or a quiet, cloudy day. Stay curious about what is happening inside. 
6. When it’s time to close the meditation circle, have everyone describe what they are feeling now. Maybe a word, weather, or a picture can be used. Then, everyone takes a big, deep breath together.
Thank you for trying this meditation.

Bio/Attribution:

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director of Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center in northern New Mexico offering classes, workshops, and coaching to children, families, and individuals of all ages and meditation experience. Anne-Marie’s credentials are from Mindful Schools and Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness as well as an 8-week MBSR course. She is a retired NM level 3 licensed classroom teacher and has taught mindfulness to students since 2016.
For more information on Mindful Frontiers and meditation, see our website at MindfulFrontiers.net