Why Feelings Are Like the Weather
If you don’t like one, wait 10 minutes
Posted Nov 06, 2019
What if it was your job to make sure it was sunny and 80 degrees outside tomorrow? That would be a pretty stressful job, right? Well, feelings are similar to the weather: We have about as much control over our emotions as we do the weather. Sometimes you can predict how you’re going to feel, just as we can generally predict the weather. For example, if you’re a student heading into an exam, your mood will likely change for the worse. But sometimes it just rains and we don’t know why. Moods/feelings/emotions come from a part of our brain we don’t have conscious control over (i.e., the “caveman” or survival brain). Therefore, we don’t have direct control over our mood; we can’t “will” ourselves to be happy or make ourselves not be worried. Thinking about feelings the way we think about the weather can help us understand some key skills for managing our feelings.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, on the prairies of Canada. It was pretty dry, only raining two to three times a year. My family of four owned only one umbrella, and that was plenty. Then I moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic coast, where it rains a lot. One day while talking with a friend on the phone, she asked me what I was up to. I explained that I couldn’t go outside because it was raining, and I was waiting for it to stop. She laughed. “If you won’t leave the house when it’s raining in Halifax, you’ll never leave the house!” So, I went out and bought rain pants, rain boots, and a raincoat—even a rain cover for my bag. So now when it rains, I can still go outside and live my life.
If we consider our emotions to be the weather, then continuing to live our life in spite of our emotions, such as being in a “bad” mood, is an important skill. In other words, just as I chose to not let the rain keep me from leaving my house, we don’t let our emotions take over our day or make our decisions for us.
This skill isn’t about making the emotional weather enjoyable; it’s about riding out the emotional storm or weather because inevitably it will pass; our mood will change. You’ve probably heard the expression, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” Like the weather, our moods are always changing.
If we consider our feelings to be like the weather, another important idea emerges. Sometimes our feelings seem overwhelming and overpowering. But if we think about our feelings as being part of us but not all that we are, then our feelings can feel more manageable. This idea is captured in this metaphor, You are the blue sky; your feelings are the weather (inspired by Harris 2009). If your feelings are the weather, then you are the blue sky where weather happens. If that’s the case, then your feelings are just things passing through your mind, as a tornado passes through the sky. You are not your feelings.
If you are the blue sky and your feelings are the weather, then just as the worst hurricane or tornado can’t damage the blue sky, and eventually ends, your feelings can’t damage you, and eventually they will pass. Sometimes we just have to wait out the storm. Does that mean it’s fun to live through a tornado, or a rainstorm? Of course not! Is it easier to live your life when it’s sunny and 80 degrees compared to when it’s rainy and stormy? Of course. Is it easier to live my life when I’m happy compared to when I feel low? Of course. But if I let the weather determine what I can get done, I’ll forever be at the mercy of something I can’t control.
Our job is to make space for our feelings, to be the blue sky so we don’t have to engage in unhealthy habits to cope with our feelings and we can continue to do the things that matter to us regardless of our mood or the weather.