Is there a big difference between being grateful vs thankful? With the current rise in popularity of gratitude journals and concepts like thankfulness, I feel like this question is getting more important every day. However, it is also quite a difficult question to answer.
What’s the difference between grateful vs. thankful? The definitions have a great deal of overlap, but the general difference is pretty simple. You are grateful for something a person does for you. When someone does something nice for you, you can be grateful. Being thankful also applies to this scenario, but can also be applied for being thankful in general. Not just when a person is involved.
However, a much more important question is how can we apply both these concepts in order to better our lives? This is a much more interesting question that I want to answer straight away while we’re on the topic.
But first, let’s get back to the grateful vs thankful issue!
- Definition of being grateful vs being thankful
- Overlap between being grateful and being thankful
- When do you say that you’re grateful?
- When do you say you’re thankful?
- Why it doesn’t matter all that much
- Examples of being grateful
- Say thank you to your family
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Smile to a complete stranger and give a compliment
- Think for a moment to look back on your happy memories
- Laugh about something silly
- Go out for a run/walk and just focus on being outside
- Think about how happy you are and what positively influences your happiness the most
Let’s cut right to the chase: the definitions of being grateful vs thankful have a great deal of overlap. But the general difference is pretty simple.
You are grateful for something a person does for you. When someone does something nice for you, you can be grateful. Being thankful also applies to this scenario, but can also be applied for being thankful in general. Not just when a person is involved.
Anyway, there’s a lot more to these terms which I want to talk about. Knowing the difference between being grateful and being thankful is great and all. But learning more about how to apply these concepts is so much more important!
Why? Because practicing gratitude is correlated to happiness, both scientifically and anecdotally (as I explain in this detailed post)! 😉
But first, I want to show you the exact definitions of being grateful vs thankful first.
Definition of being grateful vs being thankful
Let’s take a look at what the dictionary says about these 2 concepts. I’m not a scholar or master of the English language, so I just Googled the two terms. You can do exactly the same thing yourself! I trust that Google is pretty smart at this, and they’ve provided me with the definitions straight away!
On the one hand, you have the definition of being “Grateful“:
And on the other hand, there’s the definition for being “Thankful“:
Overlap between being grateful and being thankful
You can see how there’s a LOT of overlap here, right?
Google shows it: being thankful is a synonym for being grateful, and being grateful is a synonym for being thankful.
They both share a similar meaning.
That doesn’t mean that they can be used interchangeably all the times. Sure, they can often be swapped with each other and the meaning would still be exactly the same. But in some scenarios it’s better to use “Grateful” and in others, it’s best to use “Thankful”.
When do you say that you’re grateful?
Have a look at the definition of being grateful: “feeling or showing an appreciation for something done or received“.
What strikes here is that gratefulness is applied when something is done for you, or given to you. This almost always means that another person – or a group of people – has personally given or done something for you.
In this scenario, you would normally say that you’re grateful.
Sure, you could also say that you’re thankful. But according to definitions, the term grateful is better suited in this scenario!
When do you say you’re thankful?
Being thankful is pretty much well-used in every other possible scenario.
The definition of being thankful supports this: “being pleased and relieved” or “expressing gratitude and relief“.
You can see that the definition of being thankful is a lot broader than the definition of being grateful. It shows that being grateful has a smaller application, and that being thankful can be used in a much broader sense.
They’re still both synonyms though. I highly doubt that anyone will ever question your use of the words.
And that brings me to my next point:
Why it doesn’t matter all that much
Nobody will ever correct you for using grateful instead of thankful or vice versa.
It simply doesn’t matter all that much. In fact, definitions across the web of the two words (especially grateful / gratitude) vary wildly. For example, a lot of people keep a gratitude journal, and they fill it with all the things they are thankful for. Surely, these gratitude journals are not just limited to things that other people have done for you. It could be filled with literally anything that you’re thankful of.
And that’s what I want to focus on here.
This article is not so much an explanation of what is the exact difference between the two.
What’s much more important to me – and hopefully to you as well – is the question of how you can apply both these concepts in order to be a better person! It turns out that practicing gratitude is a great factor for happiness. Therefore, it’s one of the things I wrote about in my big guide about how to be happy.
Examples of being grateful
I want to show you actionable ways to show gratitude in your life that you can use right away. (or thankfulness, gratefulness, whatever you want to call it, I think we covered how much these terms can be interchangeable by now! 😉 )
Some awesome ways for you to show gratitude today are:
Say thank you to your family
Think about it: who has done more for you than your parents, your brothers, and sisters, or your grandparents? If I were to answer that question personally, I wouldn’t be able to tell you!
You see, the people who raised you worked very hard to get you to were you are right now. And that is something to be very grateful for. One easy way for you to show that gratitude is to say thank you. You’d be amazed at how much happiness those two words can cause!
Keep a gratitude journal
This is probably one example of gratitude you’ve heard before. Probably because keeping a gratitude journal is something that is becoming more and more popular each day.
A gratitude journal is a place where you can record specific things or events that you are grateful for. This allows you to consider just exactly what you should be happy about. The positive effects on your happiness have been supported by a lot of studies on the subject.
If you want to be grateful, then a gratitude journal is one of the best places to start! Here’s an article I wrote explaining why, when and how you can start journaling!
Smile to a complete stranger and give a compliment
This one might seem a little strange.
How is smiling to a complete stranger an example of being grateful?
To me it’s easy. You see, I strongly believe in the concept of “paying it forward”. If you smile to a stranger, there’s a good chance that your smile will radiate. If you can spread your happiness to others like this, then you are literally making the world a better place.
Still with me? Good.
Smiling to a complete stranger can help you – and others – see that we still live in a world that’s filled with happiness.
Being able to smile to a complete stranger (and getting a friendly smile in return) is a great way to realize that there is still a lot of happiness on this planet. And that brings me to the topic of being grateful.
Being able to send a little bit of happiness to a total stranger is something to be grateful for!
Think for a moment to look back on your happy memories
Instead of being grateful for the things that are currently happening in your life, you can also be grateful for things that happened a long time ago!
Thinking about happy memories is a GREAT method of being grateful.
I try to remember my happy memories a lot. I even try to take it one step further: I write down my memories in something that I call a memory journal. This is where a make sure I never forget about my happy memories.
This not only allows me to be grateful for those memories, they simultaneously put a smile on my face and keep me from ever forgetting those memories.
This memory journal – and all of the happy memories in it – will be with me for the rest of my life.
Laugh about something silly
Laughter is often taken for granted. Yet there are a lot of people that go on for days without any form of laughter whatsoever.
My advice to you?
Remind yourself of something very silly each day. Something that you have seen or heard before – something funny – that always makes you laugh.
Laughter is one of the simplest but most powerful tools to achieve happiness. And it’s surprisingly easy to accomplish. Just think of that silly joke or memory and allow yourself to laugh for a minute.
The next step is to be grateful for that laughter.
This video below usually does the trick for me. Can you see what I mean with silly? It doesn’t matter what exactly cracks you up, as long as it gets the job done. 😉
Go out for a run/walk and just focus on being outside
Are you able to go outside and go for a walk at this very moment?
If yes, then what’s stopping you?
Rain? Take an umbrella!
Feeling tired? Being outside will likely give you a boost of mental energy!
Seriously, if you can I highly advise you to go for a walk right now!
Because it’s a perfect moment to step out of your busy and constantly moving life. Being out in the open will allow you to exit your little bubble of work-life-commute-goals-targets-repeat.
Just forget about all the things you need to do and leave your office or home.
It’ll allow you to fully clear your mind and to focus on what’s actually around you: the outdoor.
And that is something to be very grateful of! Yet, we somehow live in a world where being outside to just do nothing is considered a sin. People are constantly living from one goal or to-do list item to the other while forgetting about how simple life is actually supposed to be.
Just take a moment to exit that bubble of stress, and be grateful for the world that we’re living in.
Think about how happy you are and what positively influences your happiness the most
The last method I want to discuss of how you can practice being grateful is to start tracking your happiness every day.
Tracking happiness is basically an advanced form of journaling, which is based around the idea of rating your happiness each and every day.
This means that you get to think back about every single thing that positively influenced your happiness at the end of each day. My free template includes a journaling section, which I use for writing about whatever happened during the day. This also includes the things that I am grateful for.
Not only is this a great method for practicing gratitude, but it’s also a great way to increase your self-awareness. In addition, you get to find exactly what factors in your life have the biggest positive influence on your happiness. It’s something I analyze in great detail in my Happiness Essays.
So we now know the difference between being grateful vs being thankful. But we also know how small that difference really is, and how it likely won’t ever matter.
I hope I have opened your eyes to actionable methods to practice being grateful and thankful right away. And remember, making a conscious effort to being grateful and thankful will have a positive effect on not just your happiness, but on the rest of the world as well!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.