Is there really a difference between gratitude and appreciation? Does it make a difference in how we live?
While the differences may appear to be semantical at first, the distinction can prove vitally important in how we live our lives.
Let me illustrate:
Appreciation starts with what we notice
Do we naturally take time to notice and appreciate what is right around us? Or are we too busy?
The Washington Post, as reported by Peter Anderson, did an experiment where they hired Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, to play a 45-minute concert in the subway at morning rush hour. They wanted to see “in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?”
He played 6 Bach Concertos. Guess how many people stopped to listen? Six. Guess how much he earned in tips? $32. Who was the most likely person to stop and listen? Children. Adults barely paused before they had to rush off to catch their train or get to work.
Two nights prior he played for a soldout concert where tickets sold for $100 each. He received a standing ovation at that concert. Guess how many people applauded when he finished in the subway? Zero. He merely packed his $3.5 million violin and left the subway with $32 and an invaluable lesson.
I fear we fail to appreciate our spouses, our families, our team members, and others in our lives because we grow comfortable, distracted, or otherwise preoccupied.
How do we define thankfulness and appreciation?
Here are definitions according to the Cambridge dictionary:
Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Appreciation is “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”
Thankfulness means “conscious of benefit received, expressive of thanks, well pleased.”
I would summarize it like this:
- Thankfulness is more of a state of being. A disposition.
- Gratitude is a feeling that flows from thankfulness.
- Appreciation is the act of expressing gratitude.
There’s obviously cross-over meaning, but that progression seems significant to recognize. Appreciation flows from gratitude which flows from thankfulness.
Sounds easy, right? Not so much. It requires a multi-pronged approach of action, a change of thought patterns, and spiritual transformation.
How does the Bible view appreciation?
The Bible never uses the word appreciation, but the concept is implicit to the commands to be thankful and give thanks. In Col. 3:15 Paul tells us to “be thankful” in the context of living out our faith in community.
Psalm 103 models ways that we remember things to be thankful for. The Lord has done so many things for us in salvation, redemption, forgiveness, adoption, and the indwelling of the Spirit. Do we pause to appreciate these things daily?
James and many other authors encourage us to give thanks even when in the midst of trials.
Ultimately, thankfulness flows out of a response to God’s grace as Paul expressed in 2 Cor 4:15:
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. “
How do we lay a foundation for thankfulness?
Simply put, Paul tells us it starts by following Christ. If we grow our root system in him he will build our faith through truth and this faith will overflow into thankfulness.
“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col. 2:7 NLT
So it starts in our minds and hearts. Paul tells us later in Colossians:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Col. 3:16 ESV
As we allow the word to dwell in us, to guide our relationships together, it will result in worship and thankfulness.
How does this relate to appreciation?
It’s no wonder Jesus told us that to enter the Kingdom of God we must become like little children. Remember in the example of the violin virtuoso how the only people who stopped to appreciate him were the children?
Now you may be thinking but all those other people had important things they were doing. That may very well be true. And we’re not judging them.
But how is it that they didn’t have the disposition to stop and appreciate something truly beautiful? Could it be they don’t live gratefully? We’ll never know.
I don’t suggest that we need to stop and smell every flower, tip every artist, or notice every sunset. Neither do I think we should continuously pour out words of affirmation toward our spouses and co-workers (though my wife seems to disagree with me on this point).
I do think we can ask God to continue to grow our rootedness in Christ and build our faith so that we think and live more thankfully. I also believe we can affect our hearts by choosing daily to give thanks and show appreciation for those around us.
Look for three unexpected reasons today to be thankful. Stop and take time to appreciate the person or God. Write down in your journal about those experiences.
Father, I praise you as the giver of life. You provide for my every need abundantly beyond my expectation. I thank you for saving me and rescuing me from my sins and folly. Thank you for giving me the gift of faith that weathers the worst storms. I pray my faith will increase and as it does, help me also grow in praise and gratitude. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.