The Difference Between Grateful and Thankful

The Difference Between Grateful and Thankful

The Difference Between Grateful and Thankful

Grateful and thankful – these are two common words we use to express our state of mind or our response to the benefits received in life. Do they mean the same?

In the broader sense, they do have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably. However, if you dig deeper, you will notice that the two words are different in certain aspects, though there are quite a few common points.

If you are curious to know the difference between thankful and grateful meanings, read on. This article attempts to uncover the real meaning and contexts of these two words. Understanding the subtle difference can help you feel the emotions more deeply and apply the concepts better to improve your lives.

Grateful vs thankful: Definitions

The definition of grateful is feeling or showing appreciation for what has been received. The definition of thankful is feeling or expressing gratitude. So, the main difference between the two words would be that grateful focuses more on what has been received, whereas thankful can include both what has been received and what has been given.

Thankful vs grateful: When to use them?

This explanation from the Cambridge dictionary may help understand some of the finer points in their difference. 

Thankful vs grateful When to use them

When you say that you are grateful, you mean that you appreciate what you already have and not what you desire or want. On the other hand, when you express your thanks, you acknowledge your appreciation for something you received from someone. 

If you are confused, let’s examine them in more detail.

Gratitude is an emotion that you feel when something good comes your way. It is based more on a series of events over some time rather than a single occurrence. For instance, your parents raise you until you are self-reliant. You feel gratitude towards your parents.

Thankfulness is a more instant or temporary response to someone doing you a good turn. Such as someone opening the door for you or taking the trash out or passing the salt. You say “thank you” to show your appreciation for the help. Often, this response is automatic and is not felt at a deeper emotional level. For instance, when you drop something and someone picks it up for you, you say “thank you”. You may or may not feel it when you say the words.

And, these are merely a fraction of what the words mean. Let’s delve into their meaning and usage a bit more.

Thank you with gratitude

The difference between grateful and thankful

Gratitude is felt at a deep emotional level for something you already have (such as a character trait or physical feature) or something received from someone (both tangible and intangible).

“I am grateful to be born with the will to fight.”

“I am grateful for my healthy body and the things it allows me to do.”

“I am grateful for your financial support that helped me finish college.”

“I am grateful to you for encouraging me to chase my dreams.”

Gratitude can be expressed both in words and actions. When you are grateful to someone, you can say so in so many words. Or else you can do them a good turn as a return favor. This is a clear indication of your gratitude.

Thankfulness is more about actions and words and lasts only a short duration. It is more about expressing your appreciation for something someone has done for you and being polite about it. You say “thank you” and move on. There is no emotion or thought process involved in those words.

You say “thank you” to the waiter who brought you your food. You say “thank you” to the person who wished you on your birthday. You express your thankfulness to the employer for hiring you. You are thankful to the babysitter who turned up at short notice.

You need not say the words “thank you” to express your thankfulness. A smile of acknowledgment or a high-five or a wave may be used to convey the same meaning. 

Though both gratitude and thankfulness can be expressed in words or actions, thanking someone is an immediate response, while gratitude is a more long-drawn process.

Grateful vs thankful discussion continued…

The two words encompass much more meaning than described above.

Gratitude is felt when you receive something you like or want – something you consider positive and useful. You may also feel grateful when something good happens to you. Such as,

“I am grateful for your timely help.”

“I am grateful for your true friendship.”

“I am grateful for your support and guidance.”

“I would be grateful for your prompt reply.”

The word thankful is used when you manage to avert something bad. When you say that you feel thankful, you use it to express your sense of relief that the traumatic or difficult incident didn’t happen or is over. Such as,

“I’m thankful to escape unhurt.”

“I’m thankful nothing untoward happened.”

“I’m thankful that my daughter reached home safely.”

“I’m thankful that you were with me when it happened.”

Though grateful and thankful are used to show appreciation for something good, in different contexts, their meanings diverge. When you take an overview of both words, considering their numerous contextual meanings, gratitude and thankfulness cannot be considered as one and same. 

There is no denying that there are common points in their meanings and usage but in most instances, one cannot be substituted with the other. This conclusion is more significant as there is so much hype around the word gratitude in recent times. 


Does it matter which word you use?

It depends. When you are telling someone how much you appreciate their help or a gift, it doesn’t really matter whether you say that you are grateful or thankful. Or whether someone describes you as a grateful person or a thankful person. They will understand what you mean and that is that.

However, if you are considering them as emotions or how you feel them, gratitude scores way above thankfulness. As you have already seen, being thankful is more superficial and temporary. On the other hand, gratitude is felt much deeper emotionally. Gratitude may be the emotion you are seeking to raise your positive vibrations or shake off your negative self-talk. 

Gratitude and its significance

In psychology, gratitude is closely associated with happiness. In fact, it is considered the shortcut to happiness and contentment. Gratitude is also the best medicine to prevent various mental and emotional issues like anxiety, depression, negative thinking, negative self-talk, and more.

Most of us spend our entire lives chasing happiness when all we need to achieve it is to develop a grateful mindset. Here are some simple methods to include more gratitude in your daily life.

  1. Include “thank you” as an integral part of your vocabulary.
  2. Maintain a gratitude journal.
  3. Greet strangers with a smile and wish them a good day.
  4. Help those in need without expectations.
  5. Take time out to dwell on your happy memories.
  6. Use every opportunity that comes your way to smile, laugh, giggle, or chuckle.
  7. Try to create opportunities to belly laugh at least once a day.
  8. Get outside and enjoy the sunshine on your face. 
  9. Get close to nature and wonder at the amazing world around you.
  10. Go for a run or walk.
  11. Count your blessings at the end of each day.

Bottom line

When you consider the two words “grateful” and “thankful”, the difference in meaning is not very consequential. However, the way both of them affect your emotional well-being is immense. Feeling thankful is not half as beneficial as feeling grateful.

It would be helpful to note that the key to gratitude is practice. How well and how much more you incorporate it in your life, the better and easier your life would become. Before long, the results would start showing in your attitude, behavior, and perception about others as well as yourself. You may also want to take a look at our guide on how to practice gratitude for a happier life.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

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