November is, above all else, the month that we associate with giving thanks. Thankfulness is of course a key aspect of being open to spiritual dimension to our daily life, and so it is important to give thanks. Yet it is important to move beyond thankfulness. It’s worth considering the difference between thankfulness, gratitude, and gladness, particularly in the spiritual sense of the words (rather than a strictly grammatical dictionary definition).
Thankfulness is the response you feel after someone does something for you or you receive a gift. It is a specific response to a specific act. Spiritually, when we realize that God is gracious to us or in some way does something specific in our life, our response is to be thankful. It is a specific response to a specific external action. Being thankful is particularly valuable for letting others know that you appreciate them.
Gratitude has a variety of meanings that can overlap with thankfulness, but has more of a long-term connotation. Particularly on a spiritual level, gratitude is about recognizing the ongoing goodness of God in our lives. In this sense, it is a movement beyond thankfulness in that it moves beyond a short-term response to a specific action. Instead, gratitude is about recognizing the continuing goodness of who God is and what God continually gives us. Gratitude remains in good days and days that are difficult, and so has a stronger spiritual grounding. Gratitude expresses our outlook on day-to-day life, appreciating that God is continually walking with us.
Gladness has a sense of referring to our inner spiritual state in response to God’s goodness. To be glad is to be joyful at heart because God is good. It encompasses both thankfulness and gratitude. While those two relate more to our external response, gladness is more about the state of our heart. The joy found in gladness certainly overflows into an external response, though, so the differences are in degree rather than being completely separate.
As we go through these months, be thankful for what we have and what God does in your life. At the same time, look to be moved by that thankfulness to be opened to gratefulness for God’s continual goodness and feel the joy of gladness at the wonders of God each day.
–Pastor Eric J. Trozzo