Appreciation or Gratitude?

As a child I was frequently admonished for being ungrateful. My mother told me often how good I had it because I wasn’t born during the war (WWII) and that I should be grateful we had food and a roof over our head. In later years, our GP, the ‘family doctor,’ echoed this sentiment when he suggested how fortunate I was and how grateful I should be for studying at university at a young age rather than having to wait for years as he had, and once again because of ‘that war.’

And of course, there was much – and then some – to be appreciated. I remember the sun streaming in through the curtains one Easter morning, bringing the promise of Spring and warmer weather and Easter eggs. And even though I was ashamed and embarrassed at first, I appreciated and loved my godfather for pointing out my competitiveness in a board game. Nobody else had gone to the trouble and I would never forget. 

I so enjoyed spending time with him and his wife in their beautiful house; I loved that she was elegant, even though I did not know the word as a little girl. I loved that she wore perfume; it preceded her wherever she went and suited her to a T. I adored that she was an artist and could create beautiful things every day, with such ease and poise.

But what was it about being grateful that didn’t sit right?

Was I just plain callous and ungrateful or is there more to it?

Reading the first paragraph about being grateful again, do you also get this sense of how sticky, servile and guilt-ridden this much-touted virtue of being grateful is? I must have felt it as a child; the unfairness of being asked to extend a sentiment towards something outside of me, something I had no personal and felt experience of. How come I was born when I was born? Was that my fault and was there a suggestion that I should have been born during the war? What had I done wrong?

There was a feeling of being made beholden to strange people and unknown situations and there was the threat of guilt when being asked to be grateful for something nebulous and unfathomable that seemed to have to do with ‘fate’ – if there is such a thing. And what could I possibly do about that?

Being grateful felt like a yoke and imposition, something that was wielded against and over me to put me in my place lest I forget my inferior position in the overall scheme of things. In later years I would hear the expression ‘being grateful for small mercies’ and it confirmed the implied servitude and the pecking order: beware, your place is at the bottom of the heap and be grateful for what you have. In other words: stay in your place and don’t you dare step out of line!

And to top it all, there was the guilt of being ungrateful, knowing full well that to be a good person means to not ever be ungrateful.

In the second paragraph, the words ‘appreciate,’ ‘love’ and ‘adore’ appear: can you feel the expansion and the spaciousness they bring? Can you feel that appreciation carries no demands, impositions or implied servitude? Can you feel that appreciation does not ask anything of us but is an offering that supports and confirms us? Can you feel and do you know from your own experience that appreciation is felt in your body and can’t help but express and share itself around?

Is it possible that appreciation is part of basic self-care, supports our vitality, is joyful and does not need to put one person down at the expense of another/others?

Can you feel that appreciation does not play power games?

So, what is it about two seemingly very similar words that sets them worlds apart? Did you think they meant the same?

What are we buying into when we just accept what is thrown at us and comply?

What do we subscribe to when we are grateful? Is it that which asks us ‘to be grateful for small mercies?’ Are we saying ‘yes’ to servitude, belittlement and guilt?

And furthermore, what do we know innately as children that we then discard to fit in?

What happens to this inner compass that can feel and knows exactly which direction the wind is blowing from?

And finally, would it be fair to say that we can easily be led astray if we don’t feel, discern and stay with what feels true – regardless of the prevailing winds?

By Gabriele Conrad, Goonellabah, NSW

Related Reading:
What is the Science of Appreciation and how does it Evolve All of Our Relationships?
The Art of Appreciation – Helping to Break the Cycle of Self Abuse
Appreciation, Appreciation, Appreciation…..

404 thoughts on “Appreciation or Gratitude?

  1. I find appreciation offers much more than gratitude because it is an expression of expansion and confirmation all rolled into our movements. It’s also lovely to feel an expression of appreciation because it is the sharing of appreciation that we can be inspired and confirmed by one expression and one then unfolds this expression can expand our lives through the learning and connection it offers. Appreciation is forever beholding of all.

  2. It is great to distinguish between appreciation and gratitude. Realising the difference between observing, claiming and being in the joy of the vastness of ourselves and what we are part of, as opposed to holding ourselves less and inferior to something, brings home the fact that at times we may think we are appreciating something but there is a flavour of gratitude at play.

  3. Yes no matter the prevailing winds, it is the step we need to make. Appreciation comes from our inside. Blame from the outside – which is never true neither serving any ounce of a person!

    1. Danna that is so true when we appreciate based on the quality of the movements, our feeling inside then to me it is totally different to appreciating what we do. As I spent my life trying to appreciate what I do and that now so different in-appreciating who I am.

  4. ‘appreciation carries no demands, impositions or implied servitude?’ So very beautifully said Gabriele. True appreciation is a grace that holds all.

  5. Gratitude feels to me like something we are in servitude to, like a ball and chain we respect is there, like an activity we need to make time for. Appreciation is not boxed or constrained this way but is a warm and full enjoyment of everything that is around. Like a river it flows and has no end – the only difference is if we are swimming with or against the stream. Living contra to the tides of appreciation takes its toll as we obstruct and get in the way of heaven in this world. Your words here Gabriele confirm for me that this simply isn’t worth it.

  6. Interesting that both examples offered here of a demand for gratitude are comparing the current to the hardships of WWII. There seems to always be a play on guilt, lack of deserving and the threat that the item could be whipped away. So very different to appreciation with the recognition, confirmation and joy in the perfection of the moment.

  7. I have heard it said that far greater than the nuclear bomb is the bastardisation and redefinition of word. And it applies so well to this context because in truth being grateful and being appreciative are miles apart in their quality yet in our language they are synonymous by definition. This in effect allows us to hide the truth of what is really going on because to be grateful means to be good and to be good is definitely to not be who you truly are.

  8. Being grateful or expressing gratitude feels like it has strings attached, an alternative motive, whether that be to keep someone in their place. It feels finite. Appreciation is never ending, what we can appreciate is endless. The important thing here is that it is not a mental exercise. Its an observation where something about the way you move stands out and is recognised. That moment is appreciation. When that shift becomes everyday we are then confirming that very way of appreciation.

    1. True, gratitude comes with an ulterior motive, something the person who asks for or demands it is after, usually some kind of recognition. Appreciation on the other hand begets appreciation and is never-ending, like an eternal spring.

  9. In this article I have been able to gain a deeper insight to the behavior of many, myself included. For years the ‘be grateful for what you have got’ belief held me and kept me in a space that allowed only a depression. Seemingly life was amazing and I should be grateful, but it lacked my presence, my spark and any allowance of my sense of true self to be a who I was. To be grateful for a life with out our essence is a trap of the deepest proportions.

  10. Very true Gabrielle, for without discerning there is no observation, no space and hence we wield in the pravailing winds than our own breath. A beautiful reminder of how important appreciation is. To take it forth now.

  11. The childhood sensor we have of what is not right is very well attuned. If only we were confirmed in this as kids so we would not give it up as an unwelcome nuisance. Even though it may be ‘right’ what the adult is saying, if it comes laden with judgment, resentment etc. it is not true to the child (or anyone else!)

  12. I used to feel guilty about not feeling grateful for things, feeling bad about being ‘ungrateful’ for things that had been given to me but I’d often not asked for or wanted in the first place. The word grateful feels like a state of being subservient, while the word appreciation has a totally different sentiment and quality: a grandness that incorporates an understanding and an enjoyment of something or someone.

    1. That is exactly the point – demanding gratitude leaves the recipient either diminished and belittled or feeling guilty because they cannot possibly comply or understand what they are supposed to be grateful for.

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