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An Ode To Gratitude — The First Step To A Better Life

Learning to actively be more grateful to those in our lives, even when it's hard, can change everything.

Photo of two wooden mannequins in an embrace

Time to appreciate the value of generosity?

Ricardo Iacub


BUENOS AIRES — A medic and friend of mine recently told me he was trying to help a woman with medical tests. She had cared for him as a child and youngster, and now she needed surgery. I was struck by his sense of gratitude, but also by the fact that a friend of his had advised him against helping. Was it his problem, really? he had asked.

The conversation reminded me of the elderly people who feel their grown-up children don't appreciate the efforts they'd made in the past as much as they should. Despite the inherent difficulties of close relations and some further, "Oedipal" complications, such parents feel a little left behind, and may even see their affection and past service become a source of resentment.

I am not interested so much in the Manichean tale of long-suffering parents "who did everything" for their ungrateful children, as I am in observing how some entire societies can forge ties that include a lifetime of caregiving and support.

Throughout the 20th century, caring for parents or grandparents was a virtue for which certain interests might be sacrificed, even if in extreme cases the parent might be like the overbearing mother in Laura Esquivel's 1992 movie Like Water for Chocolate. The question instead is: How does one balance the individualist ethos that opens personal doors but may lead to loneliness, with a communitarian way that prevents abandonment, while at the same time avoiding a level of family interventionism that is intolerable today?

How can we be grateful, even when it's hard to be? 

A reduced sense of gratitude seems to have changed our perceptions of this type of responsibility, compared with past generations. Recognition of the other used to respond to specific collective criteria and involved clear, communal sanctions for those who failed to meet them. Today, many forms of social conditioning aim to strengthen the self and its needs, except perhaps for the strict rules governing childcare and for the elevated status now given to children.

Gratitude helps to create the type of bonds that turns solidarity into reality.

The question is, how do we maintain feelings of gratitude toward figures that are less appreciated socially, and overcome specific difficulties in turning those feelings into action? How does one turn that sentiment into real assistance without suffering it and doing it merely out of guilt or obligation, or to avoid a parent's total abandonment?

The Roman politician Cicero considered gratitude to be not just the greatest of virtues, but the mother of virtues. Gratitude helps to create the type of bonds that turns solidarity into reality. It is a valuable term for describing a close relationship that implies exchange and sharing, but also transformation of both giver and receiver, and an appreciation of the value of generosity.

Photo of a person holding a sign reading GRATEFUL

Saying it loud — and writing it big ...

Nathan Dumlao

Why is gratitude so important? 

So, gratitude isn't just giving back, in recognition of what you have received, but a desire to give anyway, even to those who didn't help you. In fact, unless you're giving in that spirit, without counting, you will probably always feel short-changed or disappointed with others.

Many older people are prone to feelings of abandonment, loneliness or insecurity as their lives become more restricted, and their professional and social openings slow down. That can make them more demanding in their conduct with relatives or people around them, and more dependent than they once were. That is where the deficit in "networks of gratitude" can create forced obligations on children, which can lead to violence or abuse.

Gratitude is neither business nor commerce

When caring for someone becomes an obligation, without any of that additional emotional significance, it can become arduous, corrosive and harmful. Like my friend was asked: "Must he really help?" as if he were wading into a problem that was absolutely unrelated to him, instead of picking up the common thread of humanity?

Gratitude can thus become another form of self-affirmation: it has its costs but is not without rewards, both palpable and abstract. Studies suggest gratitude can improve self-esteem, which means you feel better and have better control of your personal circumstances. There is evidence it fuels a sense of personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance, which in turn can help one overcome difficult junctures. Gratitude is thus neither business nor commerce, but a response to the transmission of love that creates trusting human relations.

As the psychologist Melanie Klein once observed, every time a child is moved to help another, the world becomes a kinder place.

*Ricardo Iacub is a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Turkey-Israel Relations? It's Complicated — But The Gaza War Is Different

Turkish President Erdogan has now called on the International Criminal Court to go after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for war crimes, as the clash between the two regional powers has reached a new low.

Photo of ​Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walking

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Elias Kassem

Since the arrival two decades ago of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been a mix of deep ideological conflict and cover-your-eyes realpolitik.

On the one hand, Erdogan has positioned himself as a kind of global spokesman for the Palestinian cause. His Justice and Development Party has long publicly and financially supported Hamas, which shares similar roots in the 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood movement.

And yet, since 2001 when Erdogan first came to power, trade between Turkey and Israel has multiplied from $1.41 to $8.9 billion in 2022. Moreover, both countries see major potential in transporting newly discovered Israeli natural gas to Europe, via Turkey.

The logic of shared interests clashes with the passions and posturing of high-stakes geopolitics. Diplomatic relations have been cut off, then restored, and since October 7, the countries’ respective ambassadors have been recalled, with accusations flying between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, over the past 48 hours, Turkish-Israeli relations may have hit an all-time low.

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