Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Grateful and Thankful

Grateful and thankful are expressions or sentiments of appreciation.  The two terms are very close in meaning, and as they are synonyms of each other, they share similar attributes.  However, there is a difference in the manner in which they are used. Although they appear to offer the same concept, the essence of being grateful goes deeper than being thankful.  There are always positive feelings attached to a grateful and thankful person.  The close contact between the two words is expressed in a quote from Swiss writer and philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel who wrote:

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude.

Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness

Thankfulness may consist merely of words.

Gratitude is shown in acts.


All about being Grateful

A person who is grateful shows their appreciation through the action of gratitude.  The grateful person may have received a gift or may have been helped in some way.  The act of gratitude that follows is the way a grateful person shows their appreciation.  It may be accompanied by thanks, but the act of being grateful goes beyond words and usually involves some kind of action, a sign of appreciation and gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is closely related to happiness and feeling pleased in a situation of giving and loving with kindness.

How is being grateful expressed?

  • A grateful person expresses their gratitude by offering something visual and tangible to show their gratitude.
  • Grateful sentiments are often expressed in gratitude journals.
  • Gratitude can be expressed through a social event.   A party or awards ceremony to express grateful messages about a person or institution.  The event is used as a way to reciprocate and show gratitude for the action and kindness received.
  • Grateful acts often get ‘paid forward’ and so the gratitude felt continues to be shared.  This is especially true of someone who prefers not to receive any recognition for their generosity.  The favor or kindness is passed on to another recipient.  This has become known as ‘paying it forward’ and in this way, more kindness and gratitude are passed on to other people.


All about being Thankful

The person who feels thankful feels pleased with something or relieved that something untoward did not occur.  Thanks are given as an automatic part of polite culture and verbally recognizing that someone has been helpful or kind.   Giving thanks or expressing thankfulness is part of polite etiquette in most cultures.  Thank you is an automatic response for acts of kindness, helpfulness and generally the polite thing to say if someone helps you.

How is being thankful expressed?

  • A thankful person expresses thanks by saying ‘thank you’ after the act of kindness or helpfulness.  The act of giving and receiving normally follows with a simple ‘thank you.’
  • Words of thanks can be expressed on a card or a written note.  The words and why the thanks were given are usually part of the thank you message.   Once again it is the wording connected to the thankful expression that is important.
  • A kind favor may be reciprocated with a thank you gift with kind words written on the gift to convey thanks.  The thank-you gift is symbolic of the expression of thanks.  It is simply a gift and not an act of gratitude.  A thank you speech may be made a formal occasion, like an awards dinner or special birthday.  A formal event, when people are thanked in public for their contribution to society or to a family, would qualify for a thank you speech.


Differences between grateful and thankful


Thankfulness and gratitude are both expressed verbally.  An expression of gratitude would normally accompany an action to express the gratitude in a deeper way.  A thank you note or card would probably be part of the token of gratitude so both would be expressed together.  However, thankfulness does not necessarily include a gift.  Often thankful words are expressed when something unpleasant like an accident, has been avoided.


A simple handshake or hug would be sufficient to say thank you.  Gratitude may be expressed further with a gift or an invitation to participate in an event to express gratitude.


Most families raise their children to remember to say thank you as part of their upbringing.  It is polite to say thank you.  Gratitude may be expressed with a thank you.  For example one may say, Thank you, I am grateful for your help.  In this way, both the words thankful and grateful are part of the same expression of thanks.


There are differences in societies and cultures around the world and different gestures and words demonstrate the thanks given.  Thankfulness is expressed through the language of the culture. Gratitude is shown with a gift or an action in many countries.  Some countries have festivals and feasts to celebrate thankfulness.  Thanksgiving, for example, is an American tradition of gathering families together to give thanks and show gratitude for one another.

Grateful vs.  Thankful: Chart




The act of being grateful, and the words expressing thanks, share the same purpose.  Grateful and thankful recognize some kindness or some helpful act and give thanks for that act or gift.  Basically, grateful and thankful are expressions of thanks or gratitude. 


The difference between the two actions or sentiments lies in the response to the person giving or helping in a situation.  The grateful person responds in a deeper manner with a gift or a grateful action.  In the case of the thankful person, words of thanks are used to acknowledge the event.  Thanks may be as simple as an expected politeness, part of cultural upbringing.  Receiving a gift or a kind act requires a simple word of thanks on most occasions, but there are times when gratitude expresses a deeper feeling of thankfulness..

Ways of expressing these sentiments

The thankful person uses words of thanks with an immediate response of ‘thank you’ or by writing a card or letter to say thank you.  Each time it is the words of thanks that are used to show someone is thankful.  Grateful sentiments are accompanied by a gift or a physical act of showing gratefulness.  Gratitude diaries are journals of events, people and places that the writer is grateful for.  Events like Thanksgiving show appreciation for families and words of thanks are exchanged as everyone shares their gratitude at that time.  It is a great way to bring family and friends together.

Depth of the emotion

Thankfulness is taken more lightly and often is an automatic response, a learned behavior from childhood.  It is a measure of respect to thank an older person for their help.  Family and friends show a polite response to helpful acts and it is considered good manners to thank people for small acts of service.  Gratitude goes deeper than just saying thank you.  Gratitude is the act of appreciating a very special or extraordinary act of kindness.  For example, one would be grateful for help with towing a car broken down on the roadside.  The help would make the driver of the faulty car feel very grateful.  The act of opening a car door would be a matter of being thankful for the polite respectful gesture.

Traditions and customs

Although different cultures and customs may show thankfulness and gratitude differently it would appear that there is a common thread and similar gestures that are acceptable.  Bowing is an acceptable gesture in Japan and accepting gifts with two hands shows respect for the giver.  If you visit China be generous with your ‘thank yous’ and remember to thank people for the time they have spent with you. A universal way of showing gratitude comes in the form of gift-giving.  It is not always considered polite to make too much eye contact in some cultures so remember to thank with respect if this is the custom.  It would be correct to say that the universal way of showing gratitude would be by giving gifts and saying thank you.  In this way, people are both grateful and thankful at the same time.


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References :

[0]Huyer Hugo. Grateful versus Thankful, what’s the difference?  Updated 14/08/2019.www.trackinghappiness.com pub The Happy Blog. Tracking happiness.

[1]Masula Tessa. 28/11/2016. The difference between thankful and grateful. Www.theoryodysseyonline,com. Pub Waynsburg University.

[2]Schulz Jodi. 16/05/2018. Gratitude versus thankfulness. Www.canr.msu.edu.news/gratitude part 4.pub.Michigan State University Extension.

[3]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/de/illustrations/dankbar-vielen-dank-nachricht-gru%C3%9F-1081614/

[4]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/de/illustrations/dankbarkeit-dankbar-gebet-1251137/

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