As we enter this month of Thanksgiving (or the second part of HalloThankMas, whichever you like. No judgement.), you might be considering all the blessings in your life, and wondering how best to express how you feel about them all. I’m here to make the case for being grateful versus being thankful.
“But Ceason,” I hear you saying, “aren’t these the same things? I ran them through my phone, and the internet says they’re synonyms, so can’t I use them interchangeable?” First off, of course you can, because I’m not the grammar police, as we all saw in last week’s column. On a core level, “thankful” and “grateful” say much the same thing: that something good happened to you and you appreciate it. And on a core level, the fact that you acknowledge that, makes you a pretty super person.
But, there is a really important difference between the two. When you are thankful, that means something good happened that made you relieved and happy inside. When you are grateful, something happened that made you relieved and happy inside because SOMEONE ELSE made that happen. It’s the difference between you getting a 100 percent on a test you studied really hard for, and getting a 100 percent on a test that your best friend sat up all night with you the night before and held the flashcards. You’re still thankful you passed that test, but you’re grateful you had someone else who helped make that happen.
Thankfulness, on some level, is a little more selfish than gratefulness. Not a terrible kind of selfish, like takes-the-last-deviled-egg-without-asking-if-anyone-else-wanted-it kind of selfishness. It’s more internal, more about your feelings. It’s like a prayer that only you say and where only you can hear it: still important, still needed, and just saying it sends good things into the world, but it’s still just for you.
Gratefulness is the acknowledgement that good things happened to you because of someone else. Think about it in conjunction with our upcoming Veteran’s Day celebrations: you are thankful because the actions of our veterans let you sleep a little easier at night. But actually telling them that, that’s gratefulness, because you’re acknowledging that you sleep easier because of them and without them, that relief and happiness wouldn’t be there.
Veterans, first responders, teachers… anyone who puts themselves into the service of the general public of this country are worthy of your thanks, but more than that, they are worthy of your gratefulness. They are the catalyst for your thankfulness, and you expressing that, in those words, that’s what turns your happy feelings into actions that spread happiness. Because when you tell someone you are grateful for them, besides making them blush and stammer, you’re also telling them that they are important to your happiness, that they helped create some happiness you wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s the kind of action that other people can’t help but mimic.
So this month as you begin your descent into family, friend, and food time, and you start to reflect on all the good things that are happening to you, think a little more about how you express that feeling. Take the time to turn to someone and tell them you’re grateful for what they’ve done for you. Let a veteran know that you know without them, you’d sleep a little less at night. Say your prayers over Thanksgiving, and add a little line of gratefulness that you understand that some things happen because someone else was looking out for you, and you promise to look for ways to be that kind of person to someone else.
This year, turn your thankfulness into action with gratefulness, and see if you don’t go into December feeling like you’ve made a good start into turning the holidays just a little happier for everyone around you.