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is there a difference between thankful and grateful?

My friend Kelly McCausey posed that question to her Facebook group recently and I’ve been geeking out on it ever since. (If only Kelly knew how a question like that can stick to a person like me, prone to overthinking and a little word obsession.)

So are they interchangeable, or nah?

My 9-year-old says thankful is for Thanksgiving, and grateful is for every other day of the year. I kind of like that.

Of course, Daniel’s always teaching me something — like the time he shocked me by taking part in a pie-eating contest, which is far beyond his comfort zone.

Words carry weight that we can feel in our mouths and in our minds. And I propose that thankful is a little lighter, whereas grateful carries more weight.

I think you can be thankful without being grateful, but you can’t have gratitude without being thankful.

We say “Thank you” when a stranger holds the door open. But we’re not typically brought to our knees with gratitude for it. (Though we might be grateful if it’s pouring, we’ve got a sprained ankle, and our arms are full of groceries.)

I’m thankful when the roasted veggies I made for Thanksgiving dinner turn out just right. Whew. But I’m grateful for food on my plate and for a day spent with family — even more, family that I enjoy spending time with.

Some may point out that “thanks and praise” is offered during religious services, which is a weighty thing indeed. But I think thanks and praise are the actions, whereas gratitude is the feeling that results. We carry gratitude deep within us.

I am grateful for my life’s experiences. I made that my mantra a few years ago during the fallout from a divorce. I’m grateful, whatever the situation, when I feel I’ve received the message and learned the lesson. (Oh baby, I’ve learned me some lessons! But how much smarter and stronger I’ve become.)

At Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll talk about what we’re thankful for. It’ll certainly overlap with gratitude.

Thankful on Thanksgiving, grateful all the other days. Daniel thinks of it literally — as in, “Thanksgiving” obviously goes with thankful. But my Mom heart is glad he associates gratitude with the everyday.

Daily Gratitude

Each night, Daniel and I read before bedtime. I climb under the soft fleece blanket and lie down next to him, then reach for a book on his bureau. Our cat Lucy soon jumps up and lies down on my chest, purring. We may read a few words before our dog Lillie bounds up and briefly interrupts things. Then we fix the blankets and settle down again.

Afterward, I return the book to the bureau, switch off the lamp, and ask, “Do you wanna do Grateful?”

“Mm-hmm,” he says.

“Do you wanna start?”

“Mm-hmm,” he replies.

And then we talk about what we’re grateful for. His list usually includes me and his father as well as whatever monsters he has drawn that day and will draw the next day.

Mine always starts with him and the pets, then extends to other things. I usually say I’m grateful for a warm house and warm blankets when it’s cold outside, grateful for my car (which is a knock-on-wood that the old girl with the high mileage makes it another day), and for my laptop.

I know Daniel thinks I’m a little weird for mentioning a car and a laptop. But that’s what grateful is to me. The laptop in particular? It encompasses the idea that I live in a time when the internet has opened up so much opportunity, allowing this introvert the chance to work from home and to be present for Daniel. I’ve met some of my closest friends and all of my business peeps there.

There’s a depth to that.

Then again, I’ve also said I’m grateful for the pens at my local bank. Have I just contradicted myself?

Maybe not. Gratitude for small things creates a habit and adds up to a lifetime of finding things to be grateful for. And there’s depth to that as well.

What do you think? Is there a difference between thankful and grateful? Why or why not? And what are you thankful or grateful for?

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