Gratitude vs. Thankfulness.

They square off in our lives every day, but we seldom notice.

We don’t often recognize that the words have different meanings.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines thankful as “conscious of benefits received.”

It is a surface-level appreciation. It’s a momentary good-mannered display or response to someone who has done something nice for us, but it stops there.

Gratitude is different. It goes deeper than a touch-the-surface note of thanks. It can go into our core if we foster its growth.

It is a state of being. It extends beyond an appreciation into something more profound. It is thanks for the gift someone bestowed upon us, and it is more than that. It is also an appreciation of the things we have in our lives, a way of living and being.

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy — because we will always want to have something else or something more.”.— Br. David Steindl-Rast

I remember back to Third Grade when we were studying greater than and less than operations. I can still see Mrs. Meyer in front of the class, with her short, tightly curled sandy-brown hair, explaining the sign itself as an alligator’s mouth. The alligator is hungry and wants all he can eat this meal. He wants to eat the bigger number so that he can be full.

We get to choose how full we will be.

Do you want to be thankful, or do you want to express gratitude?

Too often, we choose to be less fulfilled:

Thankfulness > Gratitude

But, when we adopt gratitude as a default for life, we can accept this:

Gratitude > Thankfulness

When we choose to live gratitude, it is not a season or a momentary living. It is wanting something that fills us up beyond a big meal only to rush out and be nasty in the pursuit of more stuff.

Gratitude thinking allows room for joy where we are instead of entitlement and the need for materialism.

Across generations entitlement stereotypes look like this:

  • Gen Z cares about fashion, footwear, technology, food, and beauty and speaks in acronyms and emojis. I look at my daughters and wonder what their future holds.
  • Millennials are stereotyped as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic.
  • Gen X-ers aren’t much better, spurred on by what Baby Boomers did without. They’re just so entitled — they want everything now before they’ve paid their dues. Trying to accomplish in eight years or less what took their parents a lifetime to amass.
  • Baby Boomers are largely a stay-in-one-place kind of people that have a lot of “stuff” and can’t understand why their kids don’t want to be saddled with their overpriced estates and heirlooms of furniture that hold their kids back from the freedom of going, doing, being anywhere and anything they want to be.

And, when Gen Z wants its entitlement to reach up and insult the Boomers it sees as unrelatable and at the top of the generational food chain, it reaches out with:

“Hey, Boomer…” (trending insult and smack in the face).

If these stereotypes don’t fit your generation well, you are starting to see how we’ve barely scratched the surface. When we allow our entitled surface understanding to be masked in platitudes, we allow our joy to be stolen, and we don’t reach the core of how beautiful a life with gratitude can be.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it won’t be easy either. It takes practice to make gratitude our default setting. It also involves shedding things that don’t matter:

  • materialism
  • entitlement
  • self-importance
  • busyness

“We are all so busy chasing the extraordinary that we forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.” — Brene Brown

We have already been given gifts. The greatest one of all came as Jesus died on the cross and breathed out his last breath. He gave us the gift of living a joy-filled life, but it is up to us to accept the gift.

Mark 15:37–39:

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

The offering has already been made if we accept it. And, if we take it we can live a life that is joyful and at peace.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

May we travel through this life with something better than thankfulness. May we choose gratitude that turns into joy, not just for a season, but as a daily practice so we can be met with a peace and a joy that passes understanding.

When we make this choice may we see that:

“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

What is your choice for today?

For tomorrow?

For this life?


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