Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to the focus of being thankful. This time of year can give us that warm, fuzzy feeling when we spend time feeling thankful for the things our lives include. It’s easy for us to look around the Thanksgiving dinner table and say that we are thankful. Some are surrounded by family, friends, and food and in that moment in time, we’re currently experiencing that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a holiday gathering; we’re thankful. Each holiday season comes with high expectations for a cozy and festive time of year. However, for many this time of year is tinged with sadness, anxiety, or depression. What about those who just feel lost or overwhelmed or down at this time of year? Research suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — being grateful.

Are you like me in the sense that you’ve wondered what the difference is between being grateful and thankful? The two words are often used interchangeably when people express their gratitude. However, although they’re considered synonyms for showing your appreciation for something or someone, there is a difference between these two words.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word thankful as “pleased and relieved”, and the word grateful as “showing an appreciation of kindness.” This is where the difference lies; being thankful is a feeling and being grateful is an action. Gratitude is more than just the feeling of thankfulness. According to Psychology Today, gratitude is an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has as opposed to what one wants. It’s not just thinking about how thankful we are to have all that we have. It’s about living out that gratitude through the simple things we do every day. The key is keeping gratitude at the forefront of our lives; a state of being, where you feel a sense of appreciation that comes from deep within.

When we search for definitions of grateful and thankful from the spiritual side of things, it may not come as a surprise that religious and spiritual movements, such as Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism have addressed the concept of gratitude. Religions have taught that living with a sense of gratitude is a critical part of leading a good life. In recent years, researchers have provided clinical evidence of what many spiritual traditions have been arguing for hundreds of years–that living with a feeling of gratitude has a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, which creates a connection between gratitude and spirituality. While each religion uses gratitude in a unique way, they all use it to offer thanks to a higher power who has made their existence possible. By these definitions, the expression of gratitude is the continuous flow of being thankful.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Remember that the key to gratefulness is simple—it’s practice. The more you integrate gratefulness into your life, the easier and more routine it will become. It won’t take long for you to notice a change in yourself and others.

Putting it into action! How do we start incorporating these concepts into our daily lives? Here are some ways to cultivate and practice gratitude on a regular basis.

For just a few minutes, consider the things in your life that you possibly could be grateful for. You can think about any positive relationships you have, the comfort of your own bed, your ability to move your body, or your mind, which is your tool for understanding yourself and the things around you.

Take a deep breath in and feel gratitude for the clean air that surrounds you. Feel the life in your body and acknowledge the miracle you’re experiencing by simply being alive. Turn your mind to an appreciation of the things you’re seeing, smelling, and feeling right now and you will slip into a grateful mindset without even trying.

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter or email expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Once in a while, and sometimes more importantly, write one to yourself!

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one your thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day. As we head into that special time in November, open your mind up to just how helpful this simple practice may be on the path toward embracing your thankfulness. A Gratitude Journal is the practice of jotting down, each day, things that we are grateful for and allow us to become more present and aware.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” — Melody Beattie

In Thankfulness and Gratitude,

Deidre McLeod, LMHC

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