There’s nothing like a beautiful sunset or a pleasant Sunday morning to remind us that there is plenty to be thankful for in life.
There's nothing like a hug from your best friend or a call from your mom to remind you of what you're grateful for.
At first glance, it seems like being thankful and grateful is the same thing. You could swap out both words in the first two sentences, and they would still make complete sense.
However, there are distinct differences between the definitions of these similar words.
They may seem like synonyms, but there are some circumstances where gratitude carries a different weight than thankfulness.
We have found both definitions and put them against each other to find out what the differences are.
Grateful vs. Thankful in the Bible
The stories of the Bible demonstrate the value of different virtues. Throughout both Old and New Testament teachings, the writers of the Bible explore the importance of virtuous living.
These virtues are meant to guide us in our behaviors and decision making and are woven into the tenets of every major religion.
Of the significant virtues in the Bible, such as love and kindness, gratitude and thankfulness seem to be confused the most often.
In some cases, yes. However, there are distinct examples and definitions of these words exhibited in the biblical text.
You can exhibit your thanks to the world through acts of service or words, but gratitude is felt by the soul alone, a soul connected intrinsically to a higher power.
The Bible features this distinction in both fable and psalm.
Here are a few examples of Bible verses that illustrate gratitude and thankfulness:
- Psalm 9:1 – I give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.
- Psalm 106:1 – Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
- Colossians 3:16- Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
- Hebrews 12;28- Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.
Grateful vs. Thankful Difference in the Dictionary
What does the dictionary say about gratitude verses thankfulness?
Merriam-Webster defines the word grateful as “appreciative of benefits received” or “pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated.”
The fascinating part of these definitions is that there is an implied source of gratitude, both in who feels it and where it comes from.
Gratefulness isn’t manifested on its own but by the result of someone or something depositing goodness into you, which you then transmit out into a different feeling.
Gratefulness implies an internal response to someone else’s actions. It is in some ways a transformation of the internal state but also a continuous transformation.
As long as we are open to receiving, we can maintain a grateful state in perpetuity. There is no implied action born from gratefulness- it can simply exist as a feeling, a state of being.
What does it mean to be thankful?
The word is defined by Merriam-Webster as “conscious of benefit received” or “expressive of thanks.”
Notice the single word difference in the first definition of thankful and the first definition of grateful. One is described as a state of consciousness — something good has been given, and you are simply aware of that act.
A statement of thanks is an acknowledgment, while gratitude goes beyond consciousness into a sense of appreciation.
The difference between gratitude and thankfulness lies in that one-word difference: awareness vs. appreciation.
Additionally, the word thankful implies action as a result. Once we become aware of the benefit received, we express it through verbal affirmation.
Thankful vs. Grateful and How to Practice Both
Gratitude and thankfulness each have their own definitions for a reason.
While we can switch these two words out and still maintain the essence of a thought, you should know the difference to imbue that thought with a distinct meaning.
These subtle differences elevate our speech and writing, bringing specificity to an otherwise generalized statement.
Knowing the difference goes beyond writing and the technical usage of each term. This understanding also allows us to identify our emotions and better process them to communicate those emotions to others effectively.
Knowing these definitions can will enable us to know when it’s time to reflect on our gratitude or express thanks.
Here are a few examples of how to practice both gratitude and thankfulness in everyday life:
Start a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is a powerful virtue and a transformative emotional state. When we are in touch with that state, we are more deeply connected to those around us and the joy they bring to our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is an effective tool to combat focusing on the negative. At the end of every day, identify one moment where you felt truly grateful.
Think about where that gratitude came from: did someone do something kind for you, or was the weather perfect? How did your gratitude affect your day?
Bringing awareness to your gratitude will help you to identify it in the moment and breathe into that positive feeling.
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Dedicate Time to Give Thanks
Learn to be intentional when you give thanks. If “thank you” has become little more than a reflex, start to pay attention to how the other people respond to it.
Do they reflexively say, “You’re welcome” back, or do they say anything at all? These exchanges are so commonplace that they have begun to lose meaning.
Dedicate a few minutes a day to send a special thank you text to someone in your life. Thank the cashier again on your way out of the store. Make those interactions meaningful, and give them the time they deserve.
Put Things in Perspective
Gratitude is a state of being. That state can exist for as little or long as you are aware of it; it can exist even when you aren’t aware of it.
When you find yourself in a negative headspace, tap into a grateful mindset, even if it’s just for a second. Can you identify one thing you are grateful for?
It could be a roof over your head, a shoulder to cry on, or a nice hot cup of coffee. Anything will do. Allow that emotion to take over for a minute.
This change in perspective can do wonders to lift your mood. It may not change your circumstances, but a new perspective can bring forth new ways of tackling your problem.
One of the best ways to get in touch with a gratitude mindset is to meditate. There are plenty of beautiful guided meditations on YouTube or on apps like Calm to get you started with the practice.
Meditation can relieve stress, balance emotions, and heighten awareness, allowing the mind to transcend above and through its bodily presence.
People with a gratitude mindset are often much happier than those stuck dwelling on adverse circumstances. Daily practice helps you habituate that state of being until it becomes second nature.
Track Your Progress
Imagine two friends are going for a five-mile run. The first friend takes notice of each mile marker, proud of their body for making it so far, and grateful for the view in front of them.
That recognition and positive emotional reaction motivate them to run the next mile and the next.
The second friend is focused solely on the five-mile marker, never looking back at how much they’ve already achieved.
Instead, they are stuck thinking about how much farther there is to go, turning the entire experience into a negative one.
Why wait until something is over to be grateful it happened? As you move forward towards your goals, don’t forget to stop and take notice of how far you have come.
Maintaining awareness and gratitude for your progress will motivate you through your next steps.
Start with Thanks
Begin the day by identifying a handful of things you are thankful for. At the start of your work meeting, have every person think about the progress you’ve already made.
Find one person on the team to give thanks to for their efforts.
Begin a meal by thanking the person who made it and those who gathered together to enjoy it.
Thankful and Grateful: How Will You Practice Both?
Every day's a new day to be grateful for. Every deep sigh fills your body with the oxygen you need to keep going. Every teardrop waters a seed of emotional truth.
A new perspective can change everything. Even knowing the difference between thankfulness and gratitude can bring an enlightened awareness to how you write, speak, and feel.
Learning to identify your emotions brings self-awareness to deal with negative feelings. Finding gratitude in the hardest moments transforms those negative feelings into growth.