The Difference Between Appreciation & Gratitude

While working on a writing project I was asked, “Why don’t you use the word gratitude instead of appreciation?” The person asking is a fan of the Joyful Journey book and the interactive gratitude process taught in it, as am I. At first, I thought, “why not?” Everyone is on the gratitude craze right now… Ann Voskamp, The Gratitude Movement, even Oprah has a gratitude journal…. Life Model Works and I could just join right in on that train and go places!

Then I started to wonder, are appreciation and gratitude really the same thing? Is it okay to use them interchangeably? A simple google search led me to realize that this was not a debate easily solved. One site claimed- appreciation is like “love” and alignment with who you really are. Gratitude, on the other hand, is for when you’re thankful for change and you’re happy to have overcome. Another site proposed that appreciation is for specific moments and things in context. Gratitude is for abstract, theoretical concepts. So, I posted the question to my Facebook followers.

One person was quite certain that appreciation was much more personal, while another considered appreciation a “lighter” feeling and gratitude to be a much deeper emotion. Some thought appreciation led to gratitude, others thought gratitude led to appreciation. Everyone agreed both were good. I even invited the experts in my realm, Dr. Karl Lehman and Dr. Jim Wilder into my quest….and still I couldn’t find an agreed-upon definition, let alone a “winner” of the debate.

In Outsmarting Yourself, Lehman uses the two terms interchangeably and doesn’t consider a preference of one over the other.
Dr. Wilder has used both in his writings at different times. He prefers to use “gratitude” when teaching audiences in the church or those not struggling with relationship issues but found appreciation to be the better term when teaching people with traumatic backgrounds.

Scientifically appreciation doesn’t require the “feeler” to be in a relationship with someone to feel it. Gratitude does.

Defining the terms

By definition, appreciation involves the recognition, enjoyment, and full sensitive understanding of the value of something. Gratitude is the readiness to show or express appreciation to someone else for what was felt.

According to these definitions, appreciation involves the senses. I think this is the key to why I prefer to think about appreciation. When we are able to be in touch with our body sensations, our brain regions synchronize and connect. The Pre-Frontal Cortex engages and our relational circuits are on. This makes it possible for us to engage with others in an expression of gratitude!
Appreciation is the “take me away” feeling of a warm bath that when purposefully thought about, can literally take me away again.

When I’m in that warm bubble bath with candles and soft music, I’m astutely aware of the way it makes my body feel.
I breathe in deep and feel how my body floats with every inhale and sinks with every exhale. The relaxation I feel makes me moan softly. I can smell the lavender in the bubbles and see the soft candle lights flicker across the bubbles and the shadows bounce on the walls. I appreciate every second.

Gratitude is the result of the appreciation I feel which prompts me to tell someone about it or thank someone for it. As Wilder told me, “Gratitude is relational.”

Gratitude takes my mind off the bubbles and warm feelings and focuses on my husband. I want nothing more than to let him know that I am so thankful that he suggested I do this, and even went out of his way to get it ready for me.

Gratitude benefits the relationship.


Appreciation benefits my soul, my core, my psychological well-being. Appreciation can occur when it happens, and again when I remember it intentionally. Appreciation doesn’t require us to interact with someone else.

Appreciation benefits the soul, gratitude benefits the relationship. Appreciation doesn’t require interacting with someone.

Easing into it

I know quite a few people who have real difficulty with relationships. While I know that relationships are key, and they are the goal, I don’t expect people who struggle in this area to be able to start there. Asking them to express gratitude right away is kind of like asking them to hit a home run the first time they pick up a bat.

Appreciation is the “gateway” drug for those of us that struggle with relationships and things like “optimism” and “happiness.”
Appreciation can help create those much-needed links between the neurons in our brain without causing us to lock up in fear over having to tell someone thanks.

So, while both of them are great things to think about and focus on, I suggest you start with appreciation and work up to gratitude, you’ll always come back to resting in appreciation because it feels so good.

Appreciation and gratitude are similar but different. Practice appreciation and gratitude will come.

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2 Comments

  • A great discussion of gratitude and appreciation. A practical step you point out is to start with appreciation (self reflecting) and move to gratitude (expression in relationships).
    Another way to explore this topic is how we express thanks for a goodness received verses the appreciation we experience (and express) for the goodness or lifegiving character we see in something or someone. In relationship to God we call these two things thanksgiving and praise.
    May we all grow in the practice of thanks, appreciation and gratitude.

  • Thank you, Deni. It’s helpful to take the terms (gratitude/appreciation) that we throw about and drill down into their meanings.

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