Gratitude and Gratefulness

Gratitude and Gratefulness


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I hope you had a fun Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was an interesting Thanksgiving for me, set up by a Circle Practice discussion last Wednesday morning. Circle Practice is a ritualized weekly gathering of friends to discuss questions that come up for us in our lives.

The question that came forward last week was “How does gratitude show up for you?

Not the more traditional, “What are you grateful for?” but rather “How does gratitude show up in your life?

The best Circle questions stay with me a while, and this one lasted all weekend.

A part of the discussion was devoted to the differences between “gratitude” and “gratefulness.” So I’ve spent some time since then chasing them. Most internet sources consider the two words synonymous. They both generally mean “a state of being thankful.” But they’re not completely synonymous, are they?

Gratefulness comes from an Old English adjective “grate” meaning agreeable or pleasant.” The suffix “-ful,” then, creates an adjective from an adjective, which is interesting all by itself. It may be the ONLY example in the English language where the suffix -ful is used to make an adjective from an adjective. And the suffix “-ness” is used to make the noun from the adjective.

One internet writing tipper, asks why we would ever use a -ness noun when an equally good noun meaning the same thing is available?

  • anxiousness versus anxiety
  • determinedness versus determination
  • falseness versus falsity
  • moistness versus moisture
  • poorness versus poverty
  • tiredness versus fatigue

But that’s only when the two words mean exactly the same thing. Gratitude and gratefulness are slightly different.

The word grateful is not necessarily focused on a source. We are grateful for stuff – health, material gifts, sunshine, rest – that is freely enjoyed as opposed to being earned or even deserved. These things please us and trigger the gratefulness, but the feelings are fleeting.

Gratitude comes from the Middle French word “gratitude” meaning “good will.” Gratitude is focused on a source – a person or group of people who have provided us pleasure or kindness, or served us in some way that is pleasing or kind. These acts are also freely bestowed as opposed to being earned or deserved so that the good will comes without strings attached. In that way, gratitude lasts, because it engenders a mutual response. The instinct is to repay the kindness and keep it going.

In this way, gratitude is connected to obligations of returned charity and grace.

As we emerge from this season of Thanksgiving and plunge headlong into the time of the year when most of our operating money will come in, I encourage all of us – myself included – to take a moment to reflect that these are not just checks and internet gifts – stuff – that we are grateful for.

There is a real person behind every gift – most of whom are giving from their hearts and motivated by an interest in supporting the work and commitment we have to our organizational mission. Their gifts are freely bestowed and not necessarily earned or even deserved. Consequently, they create an obligation for us to work even harder in return.

And to show gratitude.


How does gratitude show up in your life?






Photo by Steve courtesy of

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  • David Allen
    Posted at 09:33h, 30 November

    From my In-Box this morning:

    As a 30-year Development Director veteran, I have thought long and often about gratitude and gratefulness and read your recent piece with even more than the usual interest. Perhaps you would be interested in this piece from Krista Tippett’s On Being program. Anatomy of Gratitude,

    Now nearing 90, Brother David Steindl-Rast has lived through a world war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country. He’s given a TED talk, viewed over five million times, on the subject of gratitude — a practice increasingly interrogated by scientists and physicians as a key to human well-being. He was also an early pioneer, together with Thomas Merton, of dialogue between Christian and Buddhist monastics. In this conversation from our visit to the Gut Aich Priory monastery in St. Gilgen, Austria, he speaks of mysticism as the birthright of every human being, and of the anatomy and practice of gratitude as full-blooded, reality-based, and redeeming.

    Thanks for all you do and how you do it. Super helpful and much appreciated.


  • Debby
    Posted at 09:16h, 28 November

    I’m grateful for your words today David.