What is Grace?
The word gratitude comes from the Latin gracia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness, depending on context.1 During the holidays, unwrapping a deeper understanding of gratitude and taking actions based on it promise more joy and meaning.
When we look to world religions for some ancient wisdom on grace, we find very clear and precise descriptions. In short, it’s safe to say that in most every religion, grace is considered a divine attribute of God that we are empowered to experience and share.5 In fact, in the Bible (Old and New Testament), the word grace appears over 160 times.2
The apostle Paul writes: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”3
The apostle Peter writes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”4
The Vedic word used to describe grace is kripa, derived from the Sanskrit kripala, which encompasses concepts of grace, blessing, mercy, and divine grace.7
To experience the grace of God, the Bhagavad Gita states one must “establish Being and then perform action and one must also not be attached to the fruits of these actions.”6
These quotes all suggest our actions must be pure, which means we must break our addiction to a “quid pro quo,” or need to have return on investment, for our actions. We must break our addiction to a reward chemical hormone called dopamine.
Interestingly, actions of gratitude—derived from the Latin for grace—turn out to be a powerful source for experiencing grace! Let me explain.
Unconditional or Conditional Giving?
In one study related to giving, researchers measured differences between giving unconditionally and giving with an attachment to the fruit of the action.
- Giving unconditionally and doing good without expectation of personal reward is termed eudaimonic giving. The word eudaimonic has to do with joy—in other words, giving from one’s true unconditionally joy-spreading nature.8
- Doing good or giving a gift in order to feel good or with an intention to get a reward or praise is called hedonistic giving, or giving in order to extract pleasure for oneself.8
While both types of giving create a positive emotion in the receiver, only giving unconditionally elicits a positive gene-regulating pattern and measurable positive effect on the human genome of the receiver. Giving hedonistically—for a reward—had a negative effect on the receiver’s genome.8
This study suggests that the human body is so sensitive, it can perceive whether the gift is given truly from the heart or is a way to be rewarded or praised in some way. When gift giving is eudaimonic, with no expectation of reward, it is felt and elicits a positive effect on our genetic code. When we give with hope to be rewarded, this elicits a negative effect on the genetic code.
What Kind of Giver Are You?
I think most of us give gifts, care, concern, love, and compassion for others from an authentic concern for the other person. That said, our brain chemistry is very tricky. We have been addicted to dopamine or a reward chemistry for millions of years from our first taste of mother’s milk. From that first taste, humans have set out to deliver that sweet taste and its reward chemistry on a daily basis—on demand! Not only can we now have sweets whenever we want, we have created an entire culture designed to lure us into a greater addiction to dopamine, the reward chemistry hormone.
Getting a taste of the reward hormone from shopping, overworking, approval, achievements, likes on social media, fame, beauty, and status are commonplace. We can even get addicted healthy things like yoga, dance, exercise, or health food, where more is not necessarily better.
Is it possible that we have slowly slipped into behavioral patterns where most everything we do has a hook, a hope to get something in return? If you give and don’t get a thank you, does it bother you? Would give an anonymous gift or would you prefer to have your name attached? Do you make sure the barista or bartender sees you leave a tip? Yes, the mind is tricky and quite good at getting that reward!
So the question is: how can we be sure we are giving eudaimonically and not unconsciously giving hedonistically?
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Grace Starts with Gratitude
There are many ways to give eudaimonically, or unconditionally without a need, desire, or hope for return on investment, but when you give, act with, or express gratitude, grace is almost guaranteed.
A sincere thank you or expression of gratitude requires no response and expects nothing in return. It opens the door to deeper level of open-hearted communication between giver and receiver—this is called grace!
One of my favorite philosophers, Martin Heiddeger, says it like this: “In joy, thinking becomes a gracious thanking.”
One study on gratitude evaluated 411 volunteers to determine the most powerful positive psychological intervention. During the study, participants were asked to write a letter of gratitude to someone they had not properly thanked for their kindness and then hand deliver the letter. This exercise scored higher than any other intervention tested, with the highest happiness scores and benefits lasting an entire month.1
In another study, two groups of volunteers were asked to write a few sentences each week for 10 weeks. One group wrote about things they were grateful for and the second group wrote about what irritated them.
The group that wrote about what they were grateful for were more optimistic about their lives, exercised more, and were reported to have fewer visits to the doctor.1
When we are grateful or thank someone, almost by definition we are not asking for anything in return. Think of ways you can express gratitude to someone with zero expectation of getting anything in return.
Gratitude Action Ideas
- Consider writing more thank you notes!
- Start a gratitude journal!
- Count your blessings!
- Write love letters to everyone you love!
- Pray for someone!
Actions of sincere gratitude are almost always eudaimonic. This kind of giving, through the window of gratitude, is perceived by the receiver as pure—no hook, no expectation. Not only will this have a positive effect on the genetic code of the receiver—this type of giving is disarming! It allows the receiver on a subtle level to open their hearts in a much deeper way and respond from a more vulnerable, delicate, and eudaimonic place— deep within their hearts.
The connection between the eudaimonic giver and the eudaimonic receiver is how we can open the door to experiencing grace. Two hearts open to each other with no expectation, seeing and feeling the godliness in all of us, hiding under the armor of a hedonistic world in which we are all somewhat conditioned to give in order to get!
The Grace of God can come in many ways, but in my opinion, looking at the world through the lens of how we can be more grateful is the highway to experiencing grace: where the God in you connects with the God in me—namaste.