It has been said that appreciation is the same thing as gratitude. Some people insist that, if you don’t believe in God or a higher power to whom you can direct gratitude for the good things in life, then appreciating those things serves the same purpose. I disagree.
While it is true that gratitude and appreciation are very similar emotions, I think a distinction can and should be made between the two. Appreciation is awareness and acknowledgment of the positive qualities of a thing, not necessarily a feeling of thankfulness for them. It is entirely possible to appreciate something while feeling little or no gratitude for it, but it is impossible to feel true gratitude for a thing and not appreciate it.
Though this is a generalization, appreciation tends to be an intellectual response to something, while gratitude is more of an emotional response. Imagine you see a painting, watch a play, or hear a new song that is well done but not the style of thing you enjoy. You can appreciate the thing because of the skill and work that went into producing it without any feeling of gratitude for having seen it and without receiving any real emotional enjoyment from it.
A person who knows nothing of architecture or engineering can see a building and appreciate it for its design and construction without any emotional response to it. Knowing that the people responsible for building it, from drawing the blueprints, pouring the foundation to putting in the utilities, all had to have a great deal of education and experience in each of their fields allows you to appreciate, on an intellectual level, the work and thought that went into it. It doesn’t mean that you feel any gratitude for it.
If you feel gratitude for something, however, a sense of appreciation is part of it. Take something as simple as a hot shower; if you feel true gratitude for being blessed with access to hot running water, if you feel thankful that you can simply turn a knob and take a relaxing hot shower, then appreciation of the benefits of the water is automatic.
This isn’t meant to downplay or belittle the importance of appreciation. In fact, appreciating the benefits of a thing is usually the first step in feeling gratitude for it. If you haven’t yet made an attitude of gratitude a habit, if you aren’t accustomed to feeling gratitude on a regular basis, start by looking around you and appreciating the benefits of things you see in your home, office, or wherever you are.
Pick an object, think of how it is used or what it does, and then think of how it improves your life. Consider how your life would be without it. Developing a sense of appreciation for the thing naturally leads to gratitude for having it in your life and not having to do without it.
Appreciation is the threshold of gratitude. It is the doorway through which we step that leads to the much more profound sense of thankfulness.