“Gratitude might be the ultimate spiritual practice.” Deepak Chopra

With Thanksgiving approaching many of us will be focusing on gratitude. Many may indeed be  searching for what they can be, or are already grateful for. 

Gratitude may be defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for  and to return kindness.[1] Gratitude and appreciation may be expressed to a person, including  oneself, or a thing (for example nature, food, music, new ideas and possibilities) and gratitude  and appreciation may be received from others to the self. 

Most people are familiar with a sense of well-being when expressing gratitude to a friend or  loved one for an act of generosity, or when we ourselves are acknowledged by another for  something we have provided. You may also be aware of people increasingly writing or speaking  of the power of gratitude and appreciation to improve and enhance one’s life and the actual  felt experience of living.  

Spiritual practices often advocate gratitude as an important a principle. What people have  known intuitively and experienced practically for centuries has, however, only recently been a  topic of scientific research which demonstrates the importance of the practice of gratitude and  appreciation to our well-being and our health. Much of this growth of scientific interest in  gratitude can be traced to the early pioneering gratitude research of psychologist Robert  Emmons of UC Davis.

Emmons has been studying the effects of gratitude on physical and psychological health as well  as interpersonal relationships. The results of his studies and those of others show that people  who regularly practice gratitude experience benefits such as the following [2]: 


  • Stronger immune systems 
  • Less bothered by aches and pains 
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Exercise more and take better care of their health 
  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking


  • Higher levels of positive emotions 
  • More alert, alive, and awake 
  • More joy and pleasure 
  • More optimism and happiness 


  • More helpful, generous, and compassionate 
  • More forgiving 
  • More outgoing 
  • Feel less lonely and isolated. 

If we wish to feel happier and more contentment in our lives and see positive change in society,  fostering an attitude of gratitude is essential.  

If gratitude is so wonderful, positive, and healthy, we may wonder how come it is not practiced  by us or others more often? The absence of gratitude around us is often stark. For example, if  we watch the news, or go on social media, or simply listen to our co-worker’s gossip, frequently much of it is attacking, blaming, scaring, and expressing victimization and insufficiency. 

One reason for this is that the brain seeks first and foremost safety. The brain is attuned to the  perception of any kind of potential danger in order to prioritize survival. Fear is a powerful  primordial, automatic, and very fast reaction when danger is perceived that is governed by the  lower centers of the brain. As Rick Hanson writes “It’s the negative experiences, not the  positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival… When you’re awake and  not doing anything in particular, the baseline resting state of your brain activates a ‘default  network,’ and one of its functions seems to be tracking your environment and body for  possible… The amygdala—which is like an alarm bell—then pulses both a general warning  throughout your brain and a special fast-track signal to your fight-or-flight neural and hormonal  systems. [3] In his Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges describes the inter-relationship of concious  and unconscious aspects of the nervous system in response to, safety, danger and social  interaction. When the environment is perceived as safe bodily state is regulated in an efficient  manner to promote growth and restoration. The human nervous system retained two more  primitive neural circuits to regulate defensive strategies when danger is perceived (ie, “fight– flight” and death-feigning, or “freeze” behaviors). Some individuals experience a mismatch, and  the nervous system appraises the environment as being dangerous even when it is safe. This  mismatch results in chronic, long term physiological states that support fight, flight, or freeze  behaviors that impair our abilities to learn and thrive. [4] Connecting to oneself and others  through the intentional practice of gratitude can contribute to aligning these processes and  bring us back into balance. 

When things go our way, or even better than we expected, we tend to feel safe and the “alarm,  alarm, alert, alert” messages in our brain are in a resting state in the background. At such times 

the more evolved, aware, and intentional aspects of ourselves can more easily come into play  and generate gratitude. It can seem obvious why gratitude is called for. However, the challenge  and a worthy goal when things don’t work the way we want them to, is described eloquently by Author Melodie Beattie: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more… It turns  problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into  important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a  vision for tomorrow.”[5] 

Lynne Twist has coined the term “Enoughness” in her book The Soul of Money. [6] (This word  has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary and is entering our daily lexicon more and  more). The term Enoughness, is self-explanatory. How much more of what I already have do I  really need? How much of what I don’t have do I need, or will make me happier? The sense of  not being or having enough, when it can be enough, makes gratitude hard to attain. Lynne not  only looks at the power of enoughness in our personal journey, but the role it plays in the  future of our planet and humanity.  

From what is written above, it becomes clear that gratitude and appreciation are not automatic  reactions, but a skill to be developed. Gratitude as promoted by great spiritual teachers is a practice. Practice means an intentional, proactive learning process done over the span of life. It  means making a choice to explore and experiment in ways to generate gratitude, appreciation,  and enoughness and to learn to receive appreciation and gratitude when it comes to us.  

In the face of the power of perceived-danger, real, or habitual, to activate a fear reaction, we  are called to be aware of what is happening to us and have the opportunity to shift out of our  automatic reactions and have a wider vision of reality that can serve us and those around us  better. Gratitude is a choice. 

The intentional practice of gratitude calls upon us to upgrade and evolve the use of our brains. The good news is that upgrading the quality of the functioning of our brain is available and  possible for anyone at any age. Gratitude is not a trait that we are born with. It is a skill we can  nurture and develop. We can have the freedom to intentionally shift ourselves into a state of  gratitude, appreciation, and wellbeing. 

For all of us, and especially for those who suffered severe and/or repeated trauma and may  have the “alarm system” on all the time, there are a variety of methods and approaches that  specifically are geared to help with this condition. To mention a few: Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal  theory and intervention; Rick Hanson’s The Foundations of Well-being; EMDR therapy and  Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing to mention a few. 

Four Tools to begin using right away

Intention: If you have not yet begun developing a gratitude and enoughness practice, and if the  above appeals to you, or if you would like to get better at this practice, the first thing to 

generate is the intention to develop your gratitude “muscle”. It is important that you see value  in at least giving it a try. 

Gratitude journal: Creating a “gratitude journal” is often recommended as an easy and great means for developing gratitude as a practice. We suggest that you look for the “low hanging  fruits”, small simple things in your daily life that you can easily recognize their value. For  example, when you are in a hurry to get somewhere and traffic is light, or that your teenage  child said yes to your request. Dr. Emmons had participants keep a gratitude journal and  suggested that they do this as a daily or weekly practice of writing one or more things down  that you are grateful for. You quickly end up with a long list that you can read through on days  when you’re feeling down and be reminded of all the good in your life. This is also an activity  that could be done with children to help cultivate the habit of gratitude from an early age. 

Awareness: is one of the 9 Essentials of Anat Baniel Method®NeuroMovement® (ABMNM®)  Awareness is the opposite of automaticity and it’s the brain in its most potent state. Awareness  is noticing and recognizing what is, which opens the door to freedom and to new possibilities.  As Emmons states, Recognition is the quality that permits gratitude to be transformational. To  recognize is to cognize, or think, differently about something from the way we have thought  about it before. When this becomes a practice, a new perception, a sense of possibility and  wellbeing emerges from the darkness. Adversity is transformed into opportunity. Sorrow is  transformed into gratefulness. [7] 

Enthusiasm: is another ABMNM Essential that can be highly effective in generating  appreciation of oneself or others. The word Enthusiasm comes from the Greek enthousiasmos,  ‘be inspired or possessed by a god’. It is the willingness and ability to appreciate in the here and  now not only the manifestation of our big dreams, needs, and desires, but also have deep  appreciation to what one might consider as small, unimportant, or is normally taken for  granted. As such, Enthusiasm is generosity of spirit. It is an exercising of generosity to the self or  other. 

With love and appreciation this Holiday Season from Anat and everyone at Anat Baniel  Method® NeuroMovement® 


[1] Oxford English Dictionary

[2] Emmons, Robert. “Why gratitude is good.” Nov 16, Accessed Oct 14,  2016. 

[3] Hanson, Rick. Buddha’s Brain New Harbinger Publications. Kindle Edition.

[4] Porges SW. The polyvagal theory: new insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic  nervous system. Cleve Clin J Med. 2009 Apr;76 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S86-90. 

[5] wisdom

[6] Twist, Lynne. (2006) The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources W.  W. Norton & Company 

[7] Emmons, Robert . Thanks!: : How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. HarperOne..  Kindle Edition.