The Difference Between Being Grateful and Thankful

What makes them different and why it is important

Image with illustration of a grateful heart next to a thank you bouquet

Let me begin by confessing this: I didn’t know that there was a difference between the words thankful and grateful.

I have used them interchangeably and considered them synonyms (which they are).

But, as I was reading on this topic, I found that although it’s not wrong to substitute them for one another, there is a fundamental conceptual difference between the two.

Let’s begin by looking at the official definitions of these two words:

Definition of Grateful and Thankful

Merriam-Webster tells us that grateful means feeling or expressing gratitude while thankful means experiencing pleasure, satisfaction, or delight.

So, the noticeable difference between these definitions is that being grateful focuses on the feeling and the expression of gratitude, while thankfulness is to be pleased about something that occurred.

So, gratefulness is active and thankfulness is passive.

But, official definitions don’t give us the full picture. Also, when we think of these words in themselves, gratitude gives a much deeper and holistic feeling.

In contrast, thankfulness also has the undertone of being dependent on someone else’s actions for it to exist.

In practice, what differentiates them both is this:

  1. Gratefulness is independent, deep, and long-term
  2. Thankfulness is dependent, surface-level, and short-lived

Let me explain this in detail now.

Grateful vs Thankful

Gratitude is the appreciation and awareness of the blessings that exist in our lives that we often overlook.

It is the practice of focusing on what is good already instead of what is missing.

It is an attitude. Being grateful is something that people aspire to be because it fundamentally changes their perspective and lifestyle.

Being thankful is a part of this. It is by no means unimportant.

We should be thankful for the gifts and kindness we receive.

Being grateful is about experiencing this appreciation without the need for someone else to do something for us.

Gratefulness is a way of life, and thankfulness is an aspect of it.

We are thankful when a friend helps us out by letting us borrow their car. They did something for us, and now we express thanks for it.

But, when we're grateful, we are not waiting for our friends to do something for us, instead, we take the initiative to express gratitude to them for being in our lives.

This brings me to another difference which is that being thankful is a response while being grateful is a choice.

We are thankful when something good happens, when we receive a gift, or when someone helps us out. It is polite to be thankful.

However, being grateful is even more powerful when times are rough.

Gratitude is the choice of looking at the light in the darkness, about being intentionally grateful for what is still good despite what glaringly isn't.

I think these are the key differences between the two. Hope that helped you.

And now that we know how powerful gratitude is, let's learn about a simple way that we can start being grateful in our lives - Gratitude Journal.

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude journaling is the practice of writing or recording what you are grateful for on a regular basis.

I've been maintaining a gratitude journal for years now and it has transformed my mindset. (Here is the journal I use)

To start with gratitude journaling, I highly encourage taking the help of gratitude prompts.

Here is a list of prompts that will help you start writing what you are grateful for:

  1. Write about a movie that touched your heart, and why.
  2. Write about someone that you really admire.
  3. Appreciate the vehicles that let you travel long distances.
  4. Express gratitude for the facility of ordering food at your doorstep and the people who deliver it.
  5. Look around and list 5 things that help you in your day-to-day life.
  6. List 5 ways that having a mobile phone makes your life easier.
  7. Express gratitude for 5 things that you use daily.
  8. Write about an electronic device that you feel grateful to have.
  9. What is one thing about the Internet that you admire?
  10. What is something that you can do today that people 30 years ago couldn't?
  11. Think about the people you don't know who help make your life easier.
  12. List 5 things in your bedroom that you are grateful for.
  13. Express gratitude for 5 tools that help you save time.
  14. What privilege do you enjoy that others might not?
  15. Write about a song that you can't help but sing along to.
  16. What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
  17. What was the most enjoyable part of your childhood?
  18. What aspect of your health do you feel grateful for?
  19. Whose company do you like the most?
  20. What excites you about the future?
  21. Who is the most reliable person in your life?
  22. When did something wonderful happen unexpectedly?
  23. Appreciate a stranger that was helping someone in need.
  24. Write about the most influential people in your life.
  25. Write about an achievement that you are most proud of.
  26. Write about something that makes you feel lucky.
  27. Write about a recent improvement in your lifestyle.
  28. Write about something beautiful that moved you to tears.
  29. What is the funniest video you've watched recently?
  30. Write about a time when you challenged your comfort zone.

And, that's it!

One thing that I'd like to say is don't worry about which word you're using when you're expressing gratitude. What matters is how you feel, not your vocabulary. So, whether it be thankful or grateful, focus on how gratitude is a part of your life.

I wish you the best!

Continue reading: 21-Day Gratitude Challenge to Build the Habit of Being Grateful

Aarushi Tewari

Aarushi Tewari

The writer and affirmations speaker at Gratitude, Aarushi believes that one of the most effective ways of feeling inner peace is by being grateful and having a loving self-relationship.

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