Thankful or Grateful?

Thankful or Grateful?

When would you use the word “thankful” vs. “grateful”?

What do these two words mean to you?

We discussed the idea of being thankful or grateful after reading one man’s realization that he’d been misspelling the word “grateful” as “greatful” his entire life. He said that he’d been grateful so seldom in his life that he never knew how to spell the word.

“I had been spelling it as though a greatful person was a person full of greatness, rather than a person full of gratitude.”

~ from “A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life” by John Kralik”

This fellow eventually concluded that being filled with gratitude only occurs when looking outside of himself. His gratitude was focused on being thankful for the good in his life. Unfortunately, we felt he missed the mark because he didn’t realize from where all the goodness was flowing …

Are thankfulness and gratitude interchangeable?

To explore this topic of thankfulness vs. gratitude, Lori asked a question about the two words in a Facebook group of Christian women writers.

The majority responded that thankfulness was the outward expression of a grateful heart. It seemed to these ladies that gratitude was the deeper emotion and/or expression.

  • One used the example of the 10 lepers Jesus healed, where only one came back to say thank you. She felt that they all were thankful, but only one had a heart filled with gratitude that prompted the outward expression.
  • Another used the example of how she always says thank you to her husband for doing the dishes, but is filled with gratitude for his enduring love and support.
  • A third woman said, “My gratitude for God grows the closer I get to Him and know Him. However, I am full of thanks for all that He has done.”

What is your understanding of being thankful vs. grateful?

Maybe thankfulness comes first and then grows into gratitude? Is it a chicken or egg conundrum? Or possibly a Venn diagram?

What is your understanding of being thankful vs. grateful?

Leaders express thankfulness.

Regardless of our exploration of thankfulness vs. gratitude, we decided that leaders with a servant’s heart are thankful and express it.

In a previous Lead Like Jesus post on Gratitude, Karen McGuire shared her experiences on how God was not content leaving her as she was. From her experiences, a key realizations was:

Thanksgiving is a normal part of life when you know the One who loves you best and most.” 

And in a Lead Like Jesus devotion where the first line was, “Thankfulness is key to our leadership.” we also found, “Thankfulness pours itself out in service to others.”

Thankfulness pours itself out in service to others.”

How do you express your thankfulness? And to whom?

If we seek to lead like Jesus, then we use Him as our example. Jesus always gave thanks to His Father as His expression of gratitude.

  • Jesus gave thanks when His Father heard Him. John 11:41
  • He gave thanks when feeding others in a large group. John 6:11
  • And He gave thanks when, in an intimate circle, He broke bread. 1 Corinthians 11:24

After learning from Jesus’ example of being filled with gratitude regardless of circumstances, Paul and Silas could pray and sing hymns of praise to God while in prison (Acts 16:25). Their attitude of gratitude wasn’t impacted by their physical situation.

An attitude of gratitude. Regardless.

Is a heart filled with gratitude dependent on circumstances? Or is an attitude of gratitude a reflection of whose we are? When we understand the primary authority and audience for our life – the One in whom we can always trust – then a feeling of gratefulness will flow easily, naturally, and abundantly.

Let’s nurture our capacity for gratitude as we ponder all Jesus has done for us. Then all of our thankfulness can spill out as a service to others, and all to the glory of God!



Robert and Lori Ferguson

Robert & Lori Ferguson are best friends who have been married for 30-plus years. Their mission is to encourage husbands and wives to lead meaningful lives. Read more at

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