Both the words grateful and thankful are often used interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? In this article, we’ll explore definitions of the two words. We’ll outline the similarities between grateful vs. thankful, but we’ll also point out where the key difference lies between the two. We’ll also advise you on how and when to use each word to describe your feelings and experiences in day-to-day life more accurately.
More importantly, we’ll show you how to use both gratitude and thankfulness to improve your life. The differences are useful to understand, but the main thing is that you apply and share these feelings to your day. Doing so can drastically boost your mood and well-being, according to multiple studies So grateful vs thankful, which one to use?
Understanding gratitude versus thankfulness
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation for something in your life, but the ‘something’ is not something you feel entitled to. This is not about feeling like you don’t deserve things, but rather understanding that you could just as easily not be as fortunate to be where you are now – alive, breathing, enjoying your relationships and your life in general. You understand that others do not have the blessings and fortune you have, and you are grateful for that.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express and gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar
The word ‘grateful’ stems from the Latin word ‘gratus’ – also meaning grace. To feel grateful implies the realization that we are all living a very temporary life that may be quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Still, despite this apparent insignificance, we get to be here now, to enjoy the passions and joys of life as well as the sorrows. We understand that nobody is actually entitled to anything and that to be here at all is pretty much a matter of luck. From that standpoint, it’s hard not to be grateful.
‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein.
What is thankfulness?
Thankfulness is more direct than gratitude. You can feel thankful for someone who helped you out with a work project, a family member who gave you a gift at Christmas, or a friend who listened to you vent about your worries.
Not to say that thankfulness is ‘less’ than gratitude or not as important, but the key difference is that thankfulness is typically a temporary feeling. It relates to an action or behavior that helped you. The feeling wears off and returns to another instance of positive, helpful behavior. Gratitude, on the other hand, is more a state of mind and is typically longer lasting than thankfulness.
The benefits of gratitude
Multiple studies point to the profound health benefits of cultivating and expressing gratitude in our lives.
1. Greater life satisfaction
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology investigated the relationship between feelings of gratitude and other aspects of life, including social relationships, spirituality, and emotional well-being.
“Highly grateful people may possess a worldview in which everything they have – and even life itself – is a gift. This level of appreciation for the good things in one’s life may lead grateful people to avoid taking benefits for granted. As a result, they may be less prone to habituate to positive life circumstances, which might also help sustain their happiness and subjective well-being over time.”
The researchers found that people with a disposition or tendencies toward gratitude tend to be happier, more satisfied with life, and more prosocial than less grateful people. Self-reported feelings of depression, anxiety, and jealousy were also less frequent and severe in grateful individuals compared to non-grateful or less grateful individuals.
2. Improved emotional resilience
A 2010 study by the Clinical Psychology Review investigated gratitude levels in first-year undergraduate studies and found that grateful students found it easier to overcome the challenges associated with their potentially overwhelming stage of life. The study suggests that gratitude may be used as a powerful tool to help individuals remain grounded and healthy during challenging changes in their life.
3. Improved relationships
Research has also found that gratitude works wonders for your relationships. One study completed by Personality and Social Psychology found that romantic partners who were responsive to each other elicited feelings of gratitude in their partner, which in turn led to greater responsibility and, therefore, even more feelings of gratitude.
4. Improved health
Gratitude has been found to improve an individual’s overall physical health. Research demonstrates that feeling gratitude increases a person’s likelihood to engage in physical exercise. Having a sense of gratitude for your body and your health elicits an inner feeling of responsibility to maintain that health.
Gratitude also improves sleep, studies show. Further studies highlight the power of gratitude in improving our energy levels, physiological health and even increasing our lifespan!
How to be more grateful
Gratitude is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and applied every single day of your life. There is always something for which to be grateful, even if it’s something small like a beautiful tree outside your window or the taste of your favorite tea.
Gratitude is a self-perpetuating feeling. You can feel gratitude for one thing, such as that delicious herbal tea, and then feel grateful for the fact that you can taste it. You might then also feel grateful for the hard work that went into producing that tea. The more you cultivate and express gratitude, the more gratitude you’ll have to express.
To begin cultivating gratitude, it helps to keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals are those in which you write every day or a few times a week and use them specifically for writing about things that you appreciate. You don’t need to write an essay. Just a few simple lines each morning is enough. It might help to use a completely fresh journal in which to write. That will help you stay focused on the purpose of the journal.
To start, try finding three things for which you’re grateful today. Did you glance at your romantic partner and suddenly feel overcome with a feeling of appreciation? Did you feel extra aware of your surroundings as you were sipping your warm tea? Did you suddenly remember that time your friend helped you get through a difficult problem? Find three things, and simply write them down. As you consistently write in your journal, you might find it easier to add extra sources of gratitude. Three things might become ten.
Another great way to start practicing and expressing gratitude is to use positive affirmations or ‘mantras’. Mantras are a type of affirmation or prayer used in many religions and spiritual practices, but you don’t need to follow any religion to use them. Simply find a word or phrase that resonates positively and repeat that phrase to yourself for a few minutes. It helps to find a quiet space or calm your internal space if you’re somewhere busy. Pay attention to your breathing, your physical sensation, and repeat the mantra.
The importance of being thankful
The word thankful usually refers to a time-bound feeling of appreciation for action or some form of support. You can be thankful in a way that shows your emotional intelligence and ability to understand and engage with social cues.
For example, if your boss gives you some extra time off work because she knows that you’ve been struggling lately, then for that you could be thankful. You could be thankful that she extended your deadline and that your coworker agreed to help out on your project.
The aforementioned cases are just a couple of examples of thankfulness, but they highlight an important aspect of thankfulness – its association with respect. If we’re not thankful when people go out of their way to help us out, give us a break, or generally make life easier for us, then we fail to show those who are helping us that we see what they have done. Sure, when people help us, it should come from a place of genuine care and not from the need to be thanked, but to notice someone’s efforts and make sure to thank them gives them a nice, deeper feeling of acknowledgment and thankful appreciation for their effort.
The benefits of expressing thankfulness
Learning how to accept help and acknowledge another person’s efforts through thankfulness is a valuable life skill. It leads to improved, healthier relationships and more frequent feelings of happiness and contentment in life. Much like gratitude, the benefits reaped through thankfulness are many. They include but are not limited to:
- Improved relationships
- Increased social confidence
- Reduced stress
- Greater life satisfaction
- Increased likelihood of helping others
How to say ‘thank you’ and mean it
To get the most out of expressing thankfulness – to do it right, in a way that makes sure the other person knows you appreciate their efforts – it helps to follow a few simple thankfulness techniques.
Maintain eye contact
Look the person in the eyes when saying thank you. It might seem like a small detail, but it makes a world of difference to the quality of that interaction. Whether it’s your boss, a coworker, your partner, or a friend, eye contact during emotional expression is fundamental to good, healthy, and effective communication.
You don’t always have to add to the words ‘thank you, but if you feel like it, you can elaborate on why you feel thankful. For example, if someone helps you out, you can explain to them why their help is so appreciated. If you don’t want to explain the reason for your appreciation, then offer a kind word or compliment in return.
Offer something back
Real acts of help and kindness require nothing in return, but it’s nice to at least offer kindness, support, or a gift in return when someone goes out of their way to help you. It might be offering a compassionate ear to that person when they need to talk, inviting them to dinner, or simply giving them a small token of appreciation like a potted plant or a box of chocolates. The item offered is not as important as the intention behind it.
The power of showing appreciation
Whether you’re a thankful person or a grateful person, expression of your feelings towards that which you’re thankful/grateful for has a positive knock-on effect that makes you a happier person. In cases where appreciation is expressed between people, the act of expressing it creates a cycle of appreciation and other positive feelings. According to research, when we feel appreciated, we’re likely to appreciate in return, which, in turn, makes that receiver want to appreciate you even further.
‘Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.’ – Margaret Cousins.
Grateful vs. Thankful: A Summary
The key difference between gratitude versus thankfulness lies in the context in which they’re used. Both are forms of appreciation, but thankfulness is usually directed toward a person and relates to a specific action. Gratitude is a more general feeling and is the sense of appreciation one feels like relating to an umbrella of things, including one’s health, relationship, career opportunities, and very existence.
Beyond the key differences between gratitude and thankfulness, understand that both stem from a tried and true key to health and happiness – appreciation. There are many problems in the world today, but there are also so many wonderful things. Understand that even when things are difficult, the way you choose to focus and spend your energy and attention will influence how you see your reality.
The more appreciative, grateful, and thankful you become, the brighter the light you will see in your life. Likewise, the more you ignore or neglect to cultivate the feeling, the darker and duller your reality may be. Choose to be grateful and thankful whenever you can. It costs nothing to feel and express these feelings but neglecting or ignoring them can get in the way of your happiness.