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As I sat down to think about all that I am grateful for on this Thanksgiving, I started to wonder, what’s the difference in being grateful vs. thankful?

Do you ever notice how we use some words interchangeably without really knowing if they mean the same thing? We tend to do this with grateful vs. thankful, and toss is gratitude and thankfulness as if they are synonyms.

To determine if they truly do mean the same thing, the first place I started was a quick google search for the definitions of grateful vs. thankful.

Grateful vs. Thankful according to Merrium-Webster

And here is what I found:

Definition of grateful

1a: appreciative of benefits received

1b: expressing gratitude grateful thanks

2a: affording pleasure or contentment PLEASING

2b: pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated

Definition of thankful

1: conscious of benefit received for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful

2: expressive of thanksthankful service

3: well pleased GLAD was thankful that it didn’t rain

Is being grateful the same thing as thankful after all?

When you look at the definitions of grateful vs. thankful, there isn’t really much discernible difference.

In fact, Merriam-Webster seems to almost use the two words interchangeably and as synonyms.


If you pay close attention you’ll notice that they list thankful as a synonym for grateful, but grateful is NOT listed as a synonym for thankful. They do, however, list gratified as a synonym for thankful.

Weird, right? What’s up with that?

As I was reading the definitions on the screen with grateful vs. thankful, I couldn’t make a huge distinction between the definitions, it still felt like there WAS an actualy difference. The fact that they aren’t both considered synonyms for each other seemed to mean something in my mind.

The key is in the difference between gratitude and thankfulness

When I thought about it, the thing that distinguishes the two ideas to me is the idea of possession.

You can HAVE gratitude. It’s something you possess. Even as you express your gratitude, it feels like it’s something that is deeply felt inside of you.

When I think about being thankful and showing thanks, I don’t have a sense that this is something that I can hold and feel and keep inside of me the same way that I can HAVE gratitude.

Perhaps part of this is because we use the word “thanks” or “thank you” incredible casually nowadays.

We give thanks to people all the time whether we truly mean it or not. It’s just a standard reply for things as small as getting change from a cashier or someone letting you know you dropped your receipt at the grocrey store.

But to say that we are grateful for something feels a bit weightier. It feels like there’s almost a ritual to it.

Think about it. If someone picks up an item you dropped and handed it to you, you might say “I appreciate it, thanks.” Or something to that effect, but will you ever say “I am grateful to you for that.”

There is a formality to the idea of gratitude and being grateful vs. thankful that is worth distinguishing.

This formality behind gratitude to me stems from the notion that gratitude IS something that happens inside of us, and while we can express that gratitude as thanks to a person, the gratitude really is MOST beneficial for US, not THEM.

Think about it.

Having a gratitude practice isn’t something we do show someone else how much we love and appreciate them. It’s something we do to remind ourselves of what we are grateful for because it makes us feel better about life.

Thanks, on the other hand, is something that we show to someone else. Perhaps it is almost a manifestation of gratitude.

But hey, I’m no expert on the subject, just giving my two cents on my sense about whether there’s a real difference when it comes to grateful vs. thankful. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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