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Gratitude vs. Thankfulness

The week before Thanksgiving, I ran across several online articles about the difference between gratitude and thankfulness. Although one post suggested they were synonymous and could be used interchangeably, the others suggested that gratitude is a deeper emotion because it implies both an appreciation of the good things in our lives and a contentment with what we have. Thankfulness, they argued, is a fleeting, overused, and often shallow response be it to a compliment, a held open door, or a birthday present.

On the surface, their logic made sense, but as I’ve mulled the two concepts over the last few days, the following thoughts emerged. To me, gratitude looks inward. It’s an emotional response to good fortune or to some positive benefit we’ve received. We are grateful for our families, for our health, and for all the creature comforts that come with being born in America—warm homes, plentiful food, and financial security. Thankfulness, on the other hand, looks outward. It’s a conscious, intentional act that acknowledges a debt—an awareness of both a gift and a giver—that we received through no particular efforts of our own.


Maybe secular thinking considers thankfulness shallow because it sees no one to thank. As a Christian, I am grateful for many blessings in my life but I am thankful to the One who provided them. 1Thessalonians 5:18 teaches, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”—NIV. Why is thankfulness so important that it’s God’s will for our lives despite our circumstances? I think it’s because the Bible closely links thanksgiving with praise. It shows our awareness of God’s grace—His love, His mercy, and His provision—in good times and in bad. We may not be grateful for a health scare, for the loss of a spouse, or for violence in the streets, but we can still thank and praise the Lord for our salvation is secured.


So, which is better—feeling gratitude or giving thanks? Are the words interchangeable? The question mere semantics? I don’t think so. How about you?


“Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise.” –Psalm 95:2