As we approach the second holiday season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us find ourselves reflecting. We may be looking back over the last 21 months and the myriad emotions that came with lockdown, dealing with illness or dying friends, waiting for a vaccine, masking, unmasking, masking again, and the fear, anxiety, grief, and glimmers of hope that things would get better.  

Some of us began to rethink our lives during the pandemic, to aspire for something more or different. As society’s rules of engagement became unrecognizable and life as we knew it turned upside down, we asked ourselves, “Is this the home, the partner, the job, the life I want?” For many, the answer was far from yes. We looked for sources of dissatisfaction and many of us made changes — big ones. Home renovationsrelocationspet adoptionsdivorce and career changes peaked. Stopping to smell the roses transformed into searches for greener pastures. The Great Resignation has captured a slice of the trend.  

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pausing amidst the hustle to contemplate where we are and where we are headed can make our paths more intentional and our futures more fulfilling. But if we constantly question whether this or that is good enough, then we may miss out on appreciating all we have.  

When appreciation matters even more 

Appreciation benefits all parties involved. Research shows that reflecting on what we appreciate positively impacts our relationships and our physical and mental well-being. And expressing our appreciation toward others makes them feel valued, respected and like their efforts are meaningful and worth it.  

At the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, we have worked closely with educators and medical professionals both before and throughout the pandemic. From that work, we know that appreciation, which has always been important, is now more important than ever. When we ask people — from nurses to teachers — how they want to feel, the desire to feel appreciated is high on the list. 

For someone to experience feelings of appreciation, those around them must recognize their value and show they are thankful for them. The pandemic, especially early on, reminded us of all we take for granted. When suddenly all the ordinary interactions and comforts of our daily lives disappeared, we realized their value. We noticed what we had failed to notice—the familiar structures and routines shaping our worlds. And in these moments, we gave thanks. New or renewed appreciation abounded. We praised our nation’s teachers and first responders, and we cherished a brief video call with a friend, co-worker, or loved one whose company had been so constant that we did not realize how much it meant until it was gone.  

But that rush of appreciation has faded. And across the workforce, people are telling us that the lack of appreciation feels worse now. Medical professionals and educators alike who felt buoyed by appreciation earlier in the pandemic now tell us they feel invisible, unimportant, or like a statistic. They describe feeling the absence of gratitude as acutely as they experienced its presence a year ago.   

Where do we go from here?  

As the world moves back to some semblance of normal, appreciation can slip away. With a new awareness of the lives we left unscrutinized until the pandemic gave us pause, we may be searching for a better life and too quick to reject all parts of our current one. Or returning to the daily grind may cause us to simply forget to count our blessings and express our gratitude. It takes only a moment to call to mind all the ways we are fortunate — a secure job, a warm house, supportive family, old friends, a pet or child who we adore — or to say thank you to the teachers, doctors, nurses, servers, flight attendants, grocery workers and neighbors in your life. Too often, we forget to take that moment.   

With the holiday season in front of us, we can ask ourselves two questions: “What about my life now do I appreciate?” and “What’s the best way to let others know how much I appreciate them?” Let’s celebrate the season by appreciating what we have and taking time to let others know they are valued. Send a thank-you email to a teacher, drop a small gift to a doctor or nurse, or tell someone you care how important they are to you.  

Embracing new hopes and dreams doesn’t mean we can’t also rejoice in what we have.   

Nicole Elbertson, M.Ed. is the director of content and communications at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. 

Robin Stern, Ph.D. is the co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a psychoanalyst in private practice and the author of The Gaslight Effect.   

Marc Brackett, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a professor in the Child Study Center at Yale and the author of Permission to Feel.  

Published on Nov 24, 2021