Exploring Gratitude: Gratefulness According to Webster

I confess – I’ve always had a secret love for the dictionary. I find language to be fascinating, care about the way that things are said, and appreciate the nuances in the choice of one word over another.

I found myself the other day thinking about how we have a tendency to interchange the words thankful and grateful. So I decided to do a little research and what I found really surprised me. It’s changed the way that I look at the idea of gratitude.

Both words are adjectives that describe, in part, our emotional state of being or feeling. Thankful is to “feel pleased and relieved” and grateful is “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness.” Similar definitions – both relate to positive feelings about things that have happened. However as I kept reading I found this about gratefulness: “related to appreciation, acknowledgement, recognition, realization, awareness and consciousness.”

Here is my thought – thankfulness seems to be directly related to what I get. I’m thankful I made it to the gas station. I’m thankful someone gave me flowers. I’m thankful traffic wasn’t so bad I got home in time to go running. It’s almost like at its core thankfulness is inward focused.

In contrast gratitude seems to be, by definition, outward focused. Being appreciative of the kindness of others. A consciousness of gifts given to you. An acknowledgment of benefits. Gratefulness comes when we are tuned in to those around us and conscious of their impact on our lives. Gratefulness increases when we recognize what has been done for us. Gratefulness rises up in the absence of entitlement. Gratefulness comes with empathy. In essence gratefulness says, “I see you; I understand, and I’m going to respond to that understanding.”

Thankful is easy.  Gratitude has to be cultivated. But what a harvest we would reap in our families and neighborhoods if we really began planting seeds of gratitude. Perhaps this holiday season, we all should endeavor to shift beyond thankfulness to deep gratitude.


This is the first in a series we’ll be doing throughout the month of November about gratitude. Be sure to check back for more posts!

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