A French critic, journalist, and novelist in the 1800’s said,
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
– Alphonse Karr
An Easy Lesson In Definitions And English Grammar
The words “thankful” and “grateful” are often used interchangeably, but I think they are different feelings and I know they are based on entirely different meanings.
Definition of THANK (verb)
: express gratitude to someone, especially by saying “Thank you”
Definition of VERB
: a word that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being
Definition of GRATITUDE (noun)
: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Definition of NOUN
: a word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action)
A Swiss philosopher, poet and critic explained the difference between the words in this way:
“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”
– Henri Frederic Amiel
In elementary school, I remember the teacher saying that a “verb” was an “action” word and a noun was a “person, place or thing.” For me, being thankful is the action of being grateful. To show that you are grateful, you thank someone. If you just look at both words as adjectives, I think most people categorize being grateful as a deeper feeling than being thankful.
Definition of ADJECTIVE
: a word that describes a noun
Hopefully these definitions help you to better understand the basic concept of thankfulness and gratefulness as they relate to our everyday life.
The Frequency Of Feeling And Expressing Gratitude
Epictetus was born c. 55 A.D., lived alone for a long time, and had a life of great simplicity with few possessions per the Commentary on the Enchiridion on pages 13 and 46. An “enchiridion” is just a book containing essential information on a particular subject and in this case it’s subject is Epictetus, a great Greek philosopher.
“We need to regularly stop and take stock; to sit down and determine within ourselves which things are worth valuing and which things are not; which risks are worth the cost and which are not. Even the most confusing or hurtful aspects of life can be made more tolerable by clear seeing and by choice.”
These are such wise words.
The key thoughts that jump out at me are:
“determine…which things are worth valuing”
“determine…which risks are worth the cost”
“life can be more tolerable by clear seeing and by choice”
The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holiday season is a time when many people stop to take stock of their life. They express their gratitude in not only thankful words, but there are parties, celebration dinners, gifts, fireworks and new resolutions to improve the coming year.
Is this enough?
No, it is not enough to stop and take stock of your life once a year. Epictetus said to “regularly stop” which implies a more constant and frequent action. Many people believe that gratitude should be expressed daily, but what is the significance in recognizing things worth valuing so often and does it really make a difference in your life?
It’s about 3:00 a.m. Thanksgiving eve and I’m waiting for the turkey to cool off enough to go into the refrigerator. Alyssa went to bed a long time ago and snuggled under a quilt, Bella is snoring softly behind me on the couch. It was rainy, windy and very cold today when I went shopping for some groceries. I have been basically calm and filled with peace today. The other members of my family have been traumatized and each are coping with the latest family crisis in their own way.
I am not traumatized at all. When Alyssa almost died and I suddenly began to experience the horrible symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I was forever changed.
In that instant of holding her lifeless body, my capacity to hold it together disappeared. It was replaced with an overwhelming fear and pain like I had never experienced before and even if she dies before I do, I won’t ever feel it again because I was once again dramatically changed as I healed and eradicated the PTSD from my life.
The changes that I experienced to my mind, body and soul during those years of having PTSD and after working through the steps to heal makes me see, feel and process things that happen in my life totally different than I always did.
Several concepts and mantras that my family gets sick of hearing me say when an unhappy experience or crisis occurs are, “Live in today. Live one day at a time. You can only control yourself.” Because they did not go through the severe PTSD experience that I have experienced, I can tell that they cannot fully appreciate the depth of my very wise words.
Watching each of them in this latest crisis, I see how they have been traumatized, some more than others. I’ve watched how they have tried to cope with the pain and fear. I remember saying and doing the things that each of them are now doing. My heart is full of love and compassion for them. I know that they each have to cope in their own time and own way, so other than offering my time, love and occasional wisdom, I am silent.
The fact that my daughter and the other family member are alive this Thanksgiving is nothing short of a miracle. Today when I spoke to the other family member who was laughing and joking with me on the phone, my heart filled with gratitude for her life being spared. Tonight as I kissed my sleeping child, my heart filled with gratitude for Alyssa’s life being spared also.
The gratitude I feel for my daughter is an everyday, several times a day purposeful action by me. I make a conscious effort to not only recognize the miracle of Alyssa’s life and the time we’ve enjoyed together, but I notice as many things as possible to be grateful for each day. Gratitude is a large part of my life and existence.
What Is This Thing Called Gratitude?
“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
– Harold Kushner
By no stretch of the imagination have I perfected the act of being consistently grateful. I am still often filled with fear, but now I am immediately able to identify my fearful emotion and pretty quickly I can analyze the root cause and my part in the experience as I begin to work towards an immediate solution. Even if the solution is just acceptance of the situation, it is imperative that I do not linger in a state of fear for very long.
Fear robs you of happiness.
Fear robs you of today.
Fear robs you of tomorrow because you are unable to think and act rationally.
Fear robs you of gratitude.
With fear there is only gloom, worry, depression and hopelessness. You can’t find happiness while under the blanket of fear.
Life can and is often terribly tragic. But on the flip side, life can be overwhelmingly beautiful and happy. Things will happen in your life that make it impossible to be happy AT THAT MOMENT. In order to experience the joys of life, you must not only cope with the tragedies, but you need to process and learn from them. This is really no small task.
My father died while I was in the grip of PTSD. Not only was I unable to cope with the PTSD at the time, I had a very hard time processing the loss of my father. I still remember the feelings I experienced during the traumatic coupling of the tragedies. Fear and sadness overwhelmed all my senses to the point that I had one therapist tell me I would never get over the PTSD because it was too complicated. Of course, his words put me into a deep depression of hopelessness. I did not want to live.
Gratitude is one of the most powerful weapons you can use against fear, hopelessness, depression, anger, and a wide assortment of other negative emotions.
Sounds too simple of a concept doesn’t it?
Remember that gratitude is the quality of being thankful with a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Benefits of Gratitude
Can being grateful and filled with gratitude really make that big of a difference in everyday life and during a tragedy?
University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons told WebMD that “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, (and) regular physical examinations.” According to Emmons research, people who make gratitude a permanent trait instead of a temporary state of mind enjoy many health benefits that the ungrateful, fearful or a hopeless person experiences.
Some of these wonderful health benefits include:
- Optimism boosts the immune system and grateful people tend to be more optimistic.
- Being grateful helps you sleep better.
- Having a consistently grateful attitude lowers blood pressure.
- You can better manage stress when you have an attitude of gratitude.
- Gratitude improves your ability to focus, concentrate and perform mentally, physically and emotionally.
- Your self-image is more positive when you feel gratitude consistently.
- Recognizing the things people do for you and feeling grateful for them strengthens your relationships.
- Evaluating your life with gratitude leads to feelings of more satisfaction with your life.
- Gratitude helps you feel positive feelings and more optimistic about the future.
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.”
– Walter Anderson
The Best Advice Of How To Cultivate Gratitude
I believe there are three things you can do to cultivate gratitude in order to have it become a permanent character trait. Just remember that changes in your character always require patience and consistent effort. Knowing that upfront will help you adjust your attitude.
- Slow down and even stop so that you can have the time to notice the things that cause you to feel gratitude.
- Keep a running gratitude list or journal.
- Change your self-talk to include recognizing things to feel grateful for and expressing that gratitude appropriately.
Slowing down is first on the list because without taking your life at a slower pace, you won’t have time to keep a gratitude list or change your self-talk to a more optimistic conversation. It is imperative that you screech to a halt the activities that drive gratitude and inevitably peace, happiness, health and creativity from your life.
Unless you pray, meditate or just sit quietly for an extended amount of time each day, you will not be able to focus on all the wonderful things in your life or the happiness that awaits you in the future.
I encourage you to make gratitude a permanent practice in you life. See what life is offering you. Notice the little things and the big things that add value to your existence. Remember that you can only live in today because you can’t go back to yesterday and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Live one day at a time and don’t rush it away. And lastly, it is hard enough to keep your own actions and thoughts heading in the right direction, so don’t try to control other people. You can only control yourself.
Are those just flowery words?
They are engrained in my heart, soul and mind. Those concepts have become part of my DNA. I know they can change your life in a very positive way. I know it to be true just as strongly as I know that my daughter is very much alive as she sleeps peacefully in her bedroom tonight for which I am eternally grateful.
“Let us rise up and be thankful,
for if we didn’t learn a lot today,
at least we learned a little,
and if we didn’t learn a little,
at least we didn’t get sick,
and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die;
so, let us all be thankful.”