Grateful vs Thankful – What’s The Difference? (8 Experts Explain)

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Updated on 30 October 2020
Expert Content

What’s the difference between being grateful and being thankful?

They’re two popular concepts and they have plenty of overlap, but there are also some key differences between the two.

We asked a selected group of experts to provide their thoughts on being grateful versus being thankful.

Here’s what they said.

Being Grateful Is A Deeply Rooted Sense Of Self-Awareness

Lana Otoya, Dating Coach

As a dating coach for women, my primary goal is to boost inner strength so that a woman can feel confident enough to take on the daunting task of dating and trying to meet men.

This kind of inner strength is deeply rooted in “feminine energy” which is just a term to describe the side of yourself that is more grateful, thankful and appreciative of the present moment.

In working with hundreds of women over the years, I have found that there is a significant difference between being thankful and being grateful.

Being thankful is when you appreciate something that you believe you are entitled to.

Being grateful is when you appreciate something, but you don’t believe you are entitled to it.

This does not come from a place of insecurity, instead it comes from being humble and realizing that nobody is entitled to anything, and everything that you receive in your life is a blessing.

I’ll give you an example to clarify. When you go around the dinner table at thanksgiving, you feel thankful for your family but you don’t feel as though you are special for having a family. You feel thankful for them, sure, but deep down you believe that this is a basic human right and everyone should have it.

Being grateful goes so much further than that. Being grateful is a deeply rooted sense of self-awareness. It’s about realizing that you are just a tiny spec of sand in the entire universe, and everything, even down to basic human needs like having a family, is a gift that could be taken away from you in an instant.

This deep realization that we are so fragile as human beings, allows you to have a profound understanding of how lucky we are to be here and to have the things we have.

As you can see, being grateful is more difficult to do because it is scary.

Nobody finds it easy to admit that they are just a spec of sand in the universe that can be blown away, but that is why this realization allows gratefulness to be such a deeper feeling of euphoria. It’s harder to accept, but when you do, the results are life-changing.

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Thankfulness Is An Action, Gratitude Is A Feeling

Lauren Kester, Spiritual Coach

Put simply, thankfulness is an action, while gratitude is a feeling.

While we can express our thanks through words or actions, gratitude is felt on a soul level. As spiritual teacher and author Rob Bell says: the mind thinks, the soul knows.

Thankfulness is processed on an intellectual level, but gratitude moves from your head into your heart.

We can be thankful and grateful for the same things, but when we cultivate gratitude, we are able to shift our perspective and see how even the hard times in life may have benefited us.

I may not be thankful to have gone through heartbreak, but I can be grateful for the lessons I’ve learned because of it.


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Thankfulness Is A Passing Moment, Gratitude Is A State Of Being

Laura Michelle Gray, Life Coach

Thankful is being happy when given more. Grateful is knowing that what you already have is enough.

Thankfulness is a passing moment, while gratitude is a constant state of being.

I am thankful for a friend’s gift, but I am always grateful for friendship. I am thankful for the flowers my partner gets me, but I am always grateful for love.

I am thankful for the nice things in my house, but I am always grateful to have a home. I am thankful for each magical moment in life, and I am always grateful to be alive.

Gratitude is finding happiness without needing to change your circumstances. It is the most rewarding choice you can make for yourself.

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The Difference Lies In Our Values

Stacey Cook, Certified Life and Personal Development Coach

The difference between gratitude and thankfulness lies in our values, making this unique to each person.

For example, someone that places a high value on friendship will experience deep gratitude when a friend shows up for them in a supportive way.

But for those with values that rank higher than friendship, the same experience will elicit expressions of thankfulness.

Each person is appreciative, but the depth correlates to the ranking of their values.

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One Cannot Be Grateful Without Being Thankful

Dr. Adolph Brown, Clinical Psychologist and Educator

The phrases being grateful and being thankful are often used interchangeably as a result of most dictionaries listing them as synonyms. However, there are subtle differences between the phrases.

The word ‘thankful’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “pleased and relieved.”

The word ‘grateful’ is defined as “showing an appreciation of kindness.”

Here is where the distinction lies: being thankful is a feeling, and being grateful is an action.

Being grateful has two parts, one part is about appreciating what one has, and the second part is about recognizing where the goodness comes from (often an altruistic act).

Being thankful implies that one is acknowledging their appreciation for something that someone has given them.

Per the old adage, “action speaks louder than words,” being thankful is an expression of words we use to acknowledge a kind act, and the action of gratitude is a deliberate practice.

Being grateful builds on being thankful by helping us give deeper meaning to our lives, make sense of our lives and learn to affirm those around us for their roles in our lives.

One can be thankful without being grateful, but one cannot be grateful without being thankful.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

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Being Grateful Is A More Passive State

Matt Kandler, Founder of Happyfeed

Though the two can be used synonymously, I tend to think of being grateful as a passive state and thankful as a more reactive state.

Gratitude can be applied to the ongoing abundance in your life: from growing up in a loving family to just having clean air to breathe.

Thankfulness tends to come in response to actions from others. You mightful be thankful for an act of kindness or for having a supportive friend.

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Thankfulness Is An Entree Level To Gratefulness

Jaime Bronstein, Licensed Therapist

Being thankful is a thought or feeling, and being grateful is a state of being or doing something, an action.

Thankfulness is an entree level to gratefulness. You need to cultivate feeling thankful, and then you integrate gratefulness into your life.

Gratitude is a general state of thankfulness. Gratitude is a state, while thankfulness can be fleeting.

For example, you are grateful for your life versus feeling thankful for your spouse’s birthday present.

If you want to truly live a grateful life, the key is not just to think and feel thankful; it’s to embody gratefulness in everything you do.

When you show compassion and love towards someone you appreciate, you are displaying gratitude.

When you take the time to feel thankful, and you are grateful, you will see that you will be presented with more reasons to feel thankful and be grateful.

Putting out that positive energy brings in positive energy, positive people, and positive circumstances; all reasons to reside in gratitude.

Try starting your day with 15 minutes of natural daylight outdoors (Photo: Adobe Stock)

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Being Grateful Is A Much Deeper Emotion

Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers

When comparing concepts it is helpful to have definitions in order to start from a common foundation of understanding.

In the Oxford Online Dictionary, Gratitude is defined as the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Thankful is defined as “pleased and relieved.”

One can right away see a difference emerging between these terms that can aid in making comparisons.

Being grateful is showing appreciation with kindness, whereas being thankful is simply to be pleased and relieved.

Interesting, isn’t it, that to be thankful has a side effect of being “relieved”? Relieved from what one might ask? Thanking seems to be something we do to be because of a sense of obligation.

Remember “the magic word” that we were reminded of growing up? It’s expected that we give thanks for something that has been given to us or an action that someone does for us. Once we say, “thank you”, we’re off the hook, so to speak.

Gratitude seems a deeper response as it contains kindness and appreciation for what we’ve been offered without prior expectation.

“Gratitude is an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has as opposed to what one wants”, according to Psychology Today.

Furthermore, Harvard Medical School offers that gratitude is a “thankful appreciation for what one receives – tangible or intangible – as they acknowledge the goodness in their lives…”

Apparently being grateful is a much deeper emotion or response to receiving something than being thankful because there is an inherent kindness needed in gratitude.

The response comes from the heart and from being mindful of what was generously offered so the feeling lasts longer.

So, it seems that we get more personal benefit from being grateful and it would be something one would like to cultivate.

Mindful meditation is a practice that helps us be more aware of thoughts, sensations and even to feel gratitude for all that we have in our lives, at least in the present moment, anyway.

The more one integrates gratitude, the more comfortable it will become. With practice one may well notice a change in oneself by feeling grateful as it fills the heart with kindness.

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