My aunt Wendy is 44 years old and has had disabilities since she was born. She is deaf, cognitively delayed, and also struggles with OCD, anxiety, and mood swings. For several years she has lived with my family, though I'm in college and see her less often now. She is the greatest person that I know.

She has no idea the wisdom and teaching that her presence in my life and the lives of others has created, yet every day she continues to teach me how I should be living my life. It recently occurred to me that these things that Wendy has taught me may also inspire others to make their lives more joyful and full of love.


1. Ask questions

Wendy asks questions persistently and constantly. This is a part of her OCD but also a part of who she is. She wants to know what's happening; she wants to be clear that her requests are being handled. She isn't afraid to be seen as pushy -- she asks for things to happen and makes sure they do.

Some of us are afraid to ask for what we want or to question the things that are told to us. Avoid these thoughts; ask for help or clarification or for whatever it is that you need and allow others the same courtesy -- everyone deserves to have their question answered.

2. Believe in small miracles

For Wendy, so many things are treated like small miracles. A gift of a few coins or a visit from someone she hasn't seen in awhile can leave her giddy and joyful for hours. She can often be seen jumping up and down with glee. The cause? Maybe a new shirt, one of her favorite meals for dinner, or a message on her iPad. These simple miracles are things that would never make most people quite so excited or happy, but why not? Everyone would be so much happier if they did.

Find some small and everyday things that make you feel so happy that you can't help but smile. Let yourself experience these things each day.

3. Love unconditionally

Last year I got my first tattoo. I took the writing directly from one of Wendy's letters to me at school. I wanted a constant reminder to love as she does: unconditionally. Once Wendy has met someone and feels connected to them, they have her love forever. She is intensely loyal to the people she cares about, even if their presence in her life is less than it once was or should be.

Allow yourself to love this way. Fill your life with only the people you truly care about and want to spend time with. Never be fake with something as important as love.

4. Laugh often

A few days ago, she and I were working on a project and something funny happened. We both started laughing. She'd been cracking up for more than a minute when she asked me, "What's funny?" while still laughing hysterically. This, of course, made us laugh all the more.

So laugh, even when you're not confident that anything is funny. Never allow outside stressors keep you from laughing at something funny. This is what Wendy would wish for people. If everyone laughed as much as she does, she'd be absolutely ecstatic.

5. Allow yourself to be upset, but forgive easily

Like anyone, Wendy is frustrated by plenty of things. She gets mad at us often when we won't let her redo something we've already done or when she's being particularly slow. She gets angry, yells, stomps, avoids eye contact, and ignores our signed responses to her, but when the argument is over and she's cooled down, things go back to normal quickly. I doubt Wendy has ever held a grudge in her life. It's simply not even an option in her mind.

Try to be this way. Get mad if you should, yell if you need to. But in the end, offer forgiveness and apologize for mistakes you know you've made.

6. Take some things very seriously

There are plenty of things that Wendy is very serious about. And while Mickey Mouse, movies, and dogs are at the top of her list, these are just as worthwhile as anything else. If you pretend to steal her nose, she is incredibly serious about getting it back. If she is given any task, large or small, she considers this a matter of utmost importance, not to be delayed. She never fails to pay attention to the feelings of others.

Be passionate and serious about things that are important to you, and allow failures or struggles with less important things bother you less. Take the feelings of others and the consequences of your actions very seriously. Live with intention.

7. Hold on to some childlike wonder

Wendy, at 44 years old, is a firm and passionate believer in Santa Claus. This will never change. One glimpse of Santa leaves her in a state of manic delight. Though Wendy is cognitively delayed and behaves more like a 6- or 8- or 10-year-old (depending on the day), she is unlike a child in plenty of ways. She realizes more about life and how things work than a young child would. But in many ways, her hobbies, beliefs, and favorite things all fill her with childlike wonder.

Find something in your life that makes you feel as young and innocent as possible, and hold on to it. Let yourself act immature if it will make you smile more.


8. Be Patient


Patience is spending five nonstop hours working alone on a tedious puzzle just to say you've done it. Patience is waiting for as long as necessary next to the door while the dogs run around outside, just to be there when they're ready to come back. Patience is helping your elderly, disabled friend roll the ball every few minutes during Special Olympics bocce. Patience is letting your nieces spend hour upon hour turning you into a "human pizza." This photo and these stories will eternally inspire me to be a more patient person.

When simple things are frustrating, be patient and calm. Relax when you can and never let impatience color your words or actions.

9. Work hard

Wendy has a job at VIP Services, which employs disabled adults to do tasks for other companies while learning skills and interacting with their peers. It is an incredible place that offers so much support to families like ours. Wendy has worked at VIP since 1997. Despite the repetition of the work she does, Wendy loves going every day. She loves feeling like she has a job of great importance and earning her little paychecks so she can go shopping.

When you do work, no matter what it is, put effort and determination into it. Don't let low pay or lack of inspiration keep you from doing great, worthwhile work and creating positivity in your life.

10. Be passionate about something


Wendy's primary passions in life are Mickey Mouse and her family and friends, though perhaps not in that order. These things are often what drive her the most. She cherishes time spent with her neighborhood or work friends, her relatives, and her frequent discussions with her giant stuffed Mickey Mouse. It isn't hard for most people to be passionate about something or many things. However, it is much less likely for any other adult to show their passion like Wendy does.

Be passionate about some things and be open with the joy these small pleasures bring you. Never hide joy; instead, spread it to others. Make the world happier, like my aunt does with every moment of her life.