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Thankfulness vs. Gratitude

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

In one of our blog posts from last October, The Quickest Fix to Happiness, we explained how a ‘culture of appreciation’ is what most companies are lacking and what most Millennial workers are looking for. However, gratitude is an emotion that is on a different level.

Gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia (grace, kindness), gratiis (as a kindness), and the most modern Latin translation of gratis, which means to give free of charge. Positive Psychology defines gratitude as: “More than a feeling of thankful: it is a deeper appreciation for someone (or something) that produces longer lasting positivity.” And finally, the Theologian Lacewing stated it like this in 2016: “If we acquire a good, through exchange, effort or achievement, or by right, then we don’t typically feel gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion we feel in response to receiving something good which is undeserved.”

Gratitude, as an emotion, is recognizing that some of the goodness you receive lies outside of yourself. Therefore, you can be grateful to other people, to a higher power, to animals, to a god, or to the world, but you cannot be grateful to yourself. Gratitude is the acknowledgment that what you received you did not deserve, earn, or purchase. You had nothing to do with it. The act or thing that you received was because of the altruistic act of someone or something else. That is why being truly grateful is a rare emotion for many of us to have on a daily basis. We are either not the recipients of altruistic acts or we believe that the good things that happen to us or are given to us we somehow deserve or earned. Am I thankful or appreciative to be an American citizen? Sure. But I am truly grateful to be an American. Why? Because I had nothing to do with it! It was luck. It was fate. Truth be told, it was the desire, hard work, and sacrifice of my great-grandfather who immigrated from Italy that allowed me to be born an American.

Why differentiate the nuances between being thankful and grateful? Because the science shows that gratitude is what gets results in your mind and body!

A few of the effects of gratitude, according to Positive Psychology:

  1. Enhanced well-being

  2. Deeper personal relationships

  3. Improved optimism

  4. Increased happiness

  5. Stronger self-control

  6. Increased mental and physical health

  7. Overall better life

  8. Stronger athleticism

  9. Stronger neurological-based morality

A study (by McCraty and colleagues, 1998) showed that by cultivating an “attitude of gratitude,” study participants had, on average, a 23% decrease in the production of the stress hormone Cortisol in their bodies. Another study, (by Fox Et. Al., 2015) used an fMRI to study the brain activity when participants were exhibiting feelings of gratitude. The results showed increased activity in the areas of the brain that control morality, reward, and judgement. To see more and learn more on the effects of gratitude, there are an abundance of great Ted Talks on the subject.

If you want to be more grateful more often, try these tips:

  1. It’s not about you all the time. Many of the things that we have, we did not earn or deserve. Start off each day by listing 3-5 things you have that you really had nothing to do with. Examples might be beautiful blue eyes, loving parents, a brilliant IQ, a wonderful family, healthy children, a boss that cares about your well-being, a natural athletic ability, etc. Science has proven that if you are truly grateful, then there is no other emotion that you can have. You cannot be grateful and depressed, or grateful and angry, or grateful and resentful. So, if you want to have a great start to your day – start by compiling a gratitude list!

  2. It is never too late to tell someone how they have impacted your life or to thank them for something they gave or did for you. Not just a “thank you” in a note for the gift or action they took, but truly take the time to list out how the gift or action made you feel and why it was important or special to you. Then schedule a time to give the note to the person directly and have a conversation with them about it. The science proves that the simple act of telling them how you felt about the gift or service will help generate gratitude in them and, also, in you.

  3. Think less about what you want and what is good for you. Think about others first. When you practice this skill, you will see that there are many more things in life that happen because of the actions of others.

“Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough. – Oprah Winfrey

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