Every year at the end of November, Americans gather around tables short and long with family and friends to enjoy a meal with those for which they are most thankful. We take note of our blessings and privileges — and make more happy memories to be grateful for in the future.
Of course, that spirit of thankfulness shouldn’t come only once a year. We should always take stock of all we have to appreciate every morning and every night, and if you need some musical motivation to get you in the grateful mood, we have some suggestions.
There are so many people you can be thankful for. You can be grateful to a romantic partner who saw the best in you even when you didn’t believe in yourself; a long-time friend who’s always had your back; a family member who deserves a bit of praise and a reminder that they made you who you are; or even an ex-lover or enemy whose tough words helped you become all the stronger for having survived them.
Whoever you have in mind, there’s something on this list to dedicate to the people who shaped you that’s worth singing out loud in the shower, in the car and all over town.
From Ariana Grande to Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion to Ozuna, FKA Twigs, Backstreet Boys and DJ Khaled, these 20 songs will have you singing “thank you, thank you, thank you.” (And yes, that last bit is a hint about a certain song by Natalie Merchant.)
FKA Twigs, “Thank You Song” (2022)
Have you ever felt so low and alone that almost nothing brought the sun through your window? FKA Twigs has been there, but when she needed it most, someone who loved and cared for her brought her back, and now she sings their praises. Let this song be that warm embrace for yourself, and share it with someone you love. Listen here.
Kelly Clarkson, “A Moment Like This” (2002)
When this song came out in 2002, Kelly Clarkson had a heck of a lot to be thankful for. After winning the first season of American Idol, “A Moment Like This” topped the Billboard Hot 100; next year, it was followed by her aptly titled debut album Thankful. Clarkson, of course, has gone on to become one of the biggest and most recognizable music and TV stars on the planet. This track became her first major original hit, and it’s still an iconic way to let all that gratitude sink in.
DJ Khaled feat. Lil Wayne & Jeremih, “Thankful” (2021)
DJ Khaled may be loud, but he’s always shouting a rather positive message. Here, he and his long-time friends Lil Wayne and Jeremih take time out of their busy lives to give thanks for their lessons hard-learned and smiles well-earned. DJ Khaled’s children are featured in the music video, and the song samples Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” Listen here.
Rita Ora, “Grateful” (2014)
The only song on this list to be nominated for an Oscar, Rita Ora’s absolute belter of a tune “Grateful” (written by Diane Warren) was recorded as part of the soundtrack for the romantic drama Beyond The Lights starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Machine Gun Kelly and Danny Glover. This is a song that you sing with your whole body, taking note of how much you’ve learned from all your lows, and how much higher you can climb because of them.
Ozuna, “Gracias” (2020)
Ozuna knows where to give his thanks, and he’s letting it all show on this beautiful, acoustic-guitar driven tune that speaks to the heart. The video was filmed in Israel, and the heartfelt song comes from his 2020 LP ENOC. Listen here.
Natalie Merchant, “Kind & Generous” (1998)
From Merchant’s 1998 album Ophelia, this pop-soul earworm is one of the best known tunes of her career. It’s a song that starts soft and cool, then builds in its excitement until you and Merchant are just left singing “thank you, thank you” without a single inhibition in the world. That’s what makes a very gracious song, indeed.
Violeta Parra, “Gracias a la Vida” (1966)
Taking things back in time, this 1966 original from Chilean folk singer-songwriter Violeta Parra is so beautiful it will bring tears to your eyes. Performed simply with Parra’s charango and her gentle yet powerful voice, the song has become one of the most famous in Latin music history. It’s been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Kacey Musgraves, and it’s a must for any good thank you playlist. Listen here.
Kehlani, “Thank You” (2017)
If you’re ever feeling down, just listen to the first 40 seconds of this song where Kehlani talks to a child about all the simple joys we have to be thankful for. No doubt that tender and adorable moment will put a smile on your face, and the uplifting rhythm and earnest vocal performance that follows will bring you back to holding your head up high.
Jason Mraz, “Best Friend” (2014)
Is there anything better than when a person sees you for who you truly are and still loves and appreciates you? Jason Mraz’s song “Best Friend” is an ode to that person who really gets you and has your back. If you’ve got theirs, go ahead and play this one extra loud, doing whatever it is you like to do together the most. Listen here.
Keith Urban, “Thank You” (2009)
It’s never too late to change your life, but it’s a lot easier to do when you’ve got someone behind you, rooting for you and believing in your ability to be your very best self. Sometimes, that is a higher power, and sometimes that’s a true friend, and in Urban’s case, it’s his wife, Oscar winner Nicole Kidman. Whoever your strength is, play this tune from his 2009 album Defying Gravity. It’s extra good if you’re looking for a first dance for your wedding.
Koffee, “Toast” (2018)
Reggae singer-songwriter Koffee comes through with a feel-good hip-shaker that gives thanks for all the sunshine and blessings that have been given to us in our lifetime. It’s a reminder to have gratitude and wear a smile on our faces, and, of course, to share it with friends and family. Listen here.
Celine Dion, “Thankful” (2013)
One of the most powerful voices in contemporary music gives us one of the strongest sentiments we can accept into our lives. When you come through that dark tunnel and walk into the light on the other side, let this track play at full volume and hug those who helped you get there.
Backstreet Boys, “Larger Than Life” (1999)
We may never know what it’s like to live your life under the celebrity microscope, but we can take credit as fans for inspiring this all-time classic from Backstreet Boys. This is the group’s heartfelt thank you to all their adoring fans, and it also happens to be one of their biggest career hits. Really, we should all say “you’re welcome.” Listen here.
Earth, Wind & Fire, “Gratitude” (1975)
One of the silkiest, smoothest groups to ever grace a stage, this heartfelt thank you tune comes from Earth, Wind & Fire’s double live album by the same name. Released in 1975, you can take this song as a personal thank you or use it as a ‘thank you’ for those in your life who deserve it.
Gwen Stefani, “Cool” (2005)
Gwen Stefani became an international rock star as the lead singer of No Doubt, and the breakout album that changed her life (1995’s Tragic Kingdom) was famously centered around her experience breaking up with the band’s bassist, Tony Kanal. Years later, Stefani penned this hit single (No. 13 on the Hot 100) for her debut solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and it tells the story of how thankful she is now that she and her former lover can just be great friends. Share this song with the person you’ve been through everything with and more. Listen here.
Dido, “Thank You” (2000)
While hip-hop heads might recognize the opening chords and chorus of this track as the sample made famous in Eminem’s slang-defining single “Stan,” it originates from this brooding but beautiful hit from Dido’s debut album, No Angel, and before that, the soundtrack to the 1998 film Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow. This one is honest about life’s trials and tribulations, but it has a much happier ending.
Sly & The Family Stone, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (1970)
We are thankful for groove, for funk, for bass lines and for Sly & The Family Stone. We are thankful for this moment to dance, delivered to the world as the band’s second No. 1 hit on the Hot 100, later appearing on their 1970 Greatest Hits album. The lyrics include references to other hits by the band, including “Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” “Sing a Simple Song” and “You Can Make It If You Try.”
Andrew Gold, “Thank You For Being A Friend” (1978)
Any student of pop culture knows the Cynthia Fee cover of this song as the theme to the hit sitcom The Golden Girls, but before those heartwarming and hilarious gray-haired ladies stole our hearts, Andrew Gold penned and sang this tune in 1978, which went top 40 on the Hot 100. Yes, there are more verses than just the one you already know, and the whole song is worth belting out to your besties. Listen here.
Alanis Morissette, “Thank U” (1998)
Morissette burst onto the scene in 1995 with Jagged Little Pill, one of the rawest, rage-fueled and brilliant albums the world has ever enjoyed, but on this 1998 hit from her follow-up LP Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, we hear a softer and more mature side of the singer-songwriter. This is about being thankful to yourself, the universe and everything life has to offer — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next” (2019)
One of the biggest songs of our century just happens to be a super real lesson we should all learn from. Every person, situation or thing that doesn’t work out in your life is an opportunity to grow. Whatever challenge you’re facing, remember to say “thank u, next,” and thank Ms. Grande while you’re at it. Listen here.