WHAT DOES “HAPPY” MEAN TO YOU?

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” Denis Waitley

Over the past few weeks, I’ve wished many of my family and friends a Happy New Year!  Who wouldn’t want happiness in 2019, right?  The question is, however, what does “happy” mean to you?happywoman

My daughter Erica is a student at the University of Maryland.  Last semester she took a course in Positive Psychology which involved weekly exercises.  She would text me questions like, “Mom, what would make you happy today or what are you most grateful for?  She would ask me to meditate on a positive thought and report back on how I felt afterwards.

My husband and younger daughter also took part in these happiness exercises.  While I did find them helpful, I was also reminded that the definition of happiness is not exactly universal.  Sure, if you look the word happiness up in the dictionary, you’ll find things like a state of well-being and good fortune or a pleasurable experience.  However, my definition of a state of well-being may not align with your own.

So, I ask again, what does being happy mean to you?  Asking yourself this question forces you to take the time to focus on what’s important to you.  And your answers will change depending on what’s going on in your life.  As an example, my oldest hasn’t been feeling well over the past few months.  She recently had several tests done and will now be visiting with a specialist.

If you ask me what happiness means to me right now as I sit here typing this blog, it’s knowing that my daughter is going to be OK.  Of course, I’ve always wanted my children to be healthy and well but it is of even more importance to me now.  Knowing that my children are happy and well provided for gives me immeasurable  inner peace.  So, again, the definition of happiness is not exactly universal.  What makes me happy may not have any effect on your happiness level whatsoever and that’s perfectly alright.  The key is to know what you want and what’s most important to you.  What is it that will bring out positive feelings and emotions?

But as you do some soul searching in 2019, keep in mind that being happy does not mean the absence of negative emotions.  We all go through periods of fear, stress or sadness, for example.  And if we allow it, those negatives will eventually take over.  Using myself as an example, of course, I’ve been concerned about my daughter.  However, at the same time, I know I have so much to be grateful for in my life.  The love that I feel for my family and friends fosters feelings of joy and gratitude. No matter what the circumstances in our lives, there is always something to be grateful for.  You need only to take the time to look for it.  And when you look, you’ll find it within.

Why?  Here are a few tips to remember:

  1. Happiness is A CHOICE. Be mindful of your choices.
  2. Happiness is about GRATITUDE. Focus on what you do have and not what you don’t have.
  3. Happiness CAN’T BE BOUGHT. Material things bring us pleasure, not happiness.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”  The key to her wise response is that she describes happiness as a feeling, not a thing.  A feeling that can only come from taking a deep look within.

Wishing you a very Happy 2019!

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas when I Asked for a Visit from Heaven

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year but, for those who have lost loved ones, it is also the most painful.  For many it is a difficult reminder of the missing present under the tree or the empty chair at the table.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different and share a poem I wrote as a reminder that our loved ones are always with us.  I hope this in some way will help to ease your pain and lift your spirit in the knowledge that love never dies.  Happy Holidays! HolidayPhoto2018

T’was a week before Christmas, when memories of you occupied my mind,

Tears filled my eyes for all you left behind.

Not a creature was stirring as I got down on my knees,

In hopes for a visit from heaven to fill my heart with glee.

 

Finding it hard to partake in all the holiday cheer,

My heart so empty, everything so unclear.

Trying so hard to cope but everything is so different,

Without you, life just feels so empty and insignificant.

 

So on my knees I prayed for a visit from heaven,

The clock read just passed 11:00.

Please let me know that you are still near,

That your love for me is still dear.

 

When all of a sudden, I heard your sweet voice,

My heart raced as I rejoiced.

“I am happy and with the angels,

Sometimes I even sing with the archangels.

 

 

“Someday we will be together again,

Until then. . . 

Please try not to be so blue,

Be happy and live your life anew.

Know that I will always love you and

Have never really left you.”

 

The moment seemed so surreal,

Yet I sprang to my feet knowing it was so real.

I felt the warmth of your spiritual embrace,

The room now full of your undying love and beautiful grace.

 

Grateful for your heavenly sign,

I gave thanks to the divine.

With new-found strength to cope,

My heart so full of faith and hope.

 

I now have a reason,

To rejoice this holiday season.

No longer do I walk in solitude,

Those precious memories of you fill me with such gratitude.

 

When suddenly as before,

I heard your sweet voice so clearly once more.

Reaching down on me from above,  

“Merry Christmas with all my love.”  

With this gift, your comforting voice,

I shall rejoice. . . 

Until we meet again. 

Stop and Notice

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart

Gratitude is the state of thankfulness.  It means counting your blessings and appreciating the simple things.  Appreciating the good in life, however, can’t happen without first allowing yourself the time to stop and notice them.

thank-you-362164_1280 (2)On Thanksgiving Day, I gathered with my family at my brother’s house.  At the start of the meal, my sister in-law suggested that we try a gratitude exercise.  Each person at the table was asked to reflect and mention something they were thankful for.  The various responses around the table generated both laughs and happy tears.

My oldest daughter Erica is a first-year student at the University of Maryland.  Missing her over the past three months made me truly appreciate her presence at the table.  When it was her turn, Erica, too, mentioned how much she missed us and how happy she was to be back home with her family.   When it was my daughter Lia’s turn to speak, she made many of us cry with her wise, touching words.  Lia will be graduating from high school in June and will join her sister as a college student next year.

“I just want to say thank you,” she said.  “So many of my friends keep saying they want to go far away to college.  Many of them want to go as far as California.  But I don’t want to go too far away.  I want to be able to come home and it’s because of all the people in this room.  Thank you for making me not want to go far away.”

It was certainly a proud moment for me.  Many beautiful things were said as we made our way around the table that day.  Doing this exercise forced us to stop and be mindful of the present moment while expressing our thanks for something in our life.  This is not to say that we didn’t have bad things going on.  We all do.

On average, people experience more positive than negative.  Yet, unfortunately, it’s the negative that gets more attention.  Why?  Simply put our brains are developed to react more strongly to negative stimuli rather than positive ones.  Scientists report that this is the brain’s automatic response in order to keep us out of harm’s way. The brain’s heightened sensitivity to focus on the bad is automatic and therefore concentrating on the positive requires more conscious effort.

Fortunately, it’s an effort well worth making. There are, of course, countless benefits to positive thinking.  Just to name a few, positivity strengthens the body’s immune system, reduces stress, improves relationships, and increases our overall well-being and happiness.

As we made our way around the table on Thanksgiving, we were all dealing with ups and downs, good and bad.  But for that single moment we took the time to stop and savor the positive.  In that instant, we made a conscious choice to appreciate life’s many blessings.

Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the holiday season.  For some “Tis the season to be jolly” but for others it’s the start of stressful times and financial worries. While some things are beyond are control, we are always in total control of our thoughts. It’s a choice that we make in any given moment.

As Roy T. Bennett once said, “Life becomes easier and more beautiful when we can see the good in other people.”

Thank you.

You CAN Hear Your Loved Ones and They CAN Hear You!

Love is the vital core of the soul.  And of all you see, only love is infinite.” Rumi

Celine Dion lost her husband Rene Angelil to cancer in January 2016. Since then, she has publicly stated that she can still feel his presence, still talks to him and can even hear him at times.  I recently read an article which noted that her remarks often prompted ridicule and referred to these experiences as bereavement hallucinations.

It went on to explain that between 30 and 60 percent of the grieving experience such hallucinations.  hearingWhile I agree that the grieving have such experiences, they are not hallucinatory.  These visits from heaven or afterlife experiences are real.  The first year of death, it is reported that the bereaved are 75 percent more likely to receive a sign from their loved one.  In fact, another recent study reported that 80 percent believe in the afterlife or heaven.

I would love the opportunity to sit down and talk to Celine Dion because I would certainly tell her that she is not hallucinating.  It is possible to hear those on the other side and what’s more, they can hear us.

Just last night I spoke to my sister’s friend who lost her husband 18 years ago.  The subject turned to my books and I asked her if she believed in spiritual phenomena.  She went on to tell me that she has often sensed her husband’s presence and will never forget one night in particular.

“After my husband passed,” she told me, “I would often pray for protection since I was living alone.  One night I was sleeping and clearly heard in my head, ‘Get up. Turn on the lights.’ I was startled at first but just stayed in bed and brushed it off.  I then heard it again, ‘Get up.’ At that point, I wondered what was going on but still did not get out of bed.

“Then suddenly, I heard very loudly in my head, ‘GET UP.  TURN ON THE LIGHTS.’  I then quickly jumped out of bed and started turning on all of the lights in the house.”

She went on to tell me that nothing happened after that but she hadn’t sensed that it was her husband.  We spent some time talking about the experience and I reminded her that she had said that she prayed for protection around the house.  As she told me the story, I sensed that the source of the voice was an angel or spirit guide.  There had to be a reason for this sudden warning.  Since she explained to me that her home is in a secluded area, I told her that there may have been someone on her property and turning on the lights scared them away.  Of course, there is no way to know for sure.

Many have come to me with their experiences over the years.  In one case, a woman had recently lost her husband and was sleeping.  She suddenly clearly heard her deceased husband’s voice telling her to close the garage door.

She had no idea what to make of it at first because in her mind her garage door was already closed.  Feeling her husband’s presence, however, and certain that she had heard his voice, she got out of bed to investigate.  Lo and behold, the garage door was wide open.  An intruder could have walked right into the house.

So, again, these so-called bereavement hallucinations are not illusions or fantasies.  While I cannot say that every afterlife experience is real, I will say that many if not most are.  The two experiences I mentioned above are known as clairaudience (clear hearing) which basically means the ability to hear spirit, intuitive information or those in the higher realms, such as your loved ones.

I have received many messages in this way over the years which I have always found so fascinating.  As many of you already know, I have had bilateral hearing loss since birth.  Recently I paid a visit to an audiologist who fitted me with digital hearing aids.  When I put them in my ears, I was completely confused because I was hearing sounds I had never heard before.  Even the sound of my own voice was different.

Having said this, can you imagine what it’s like for me to get messages from spirit clairaudiently and have no doubt whatsoever in what I am hearing?  Whenever I receive messages from spirit, I hear it so clearly despite my hearing impairment.

The question that I often get is what exactly does this sound like?   Most of the time it sounds like your own voice.  In other words, you hear it internally as if you’re thinking to yourself.  This is also known as telepathic communicating and is most often soft and subtle.  Our loved ones and others in spirit form do not want scare us.  However, in the case of warnings like those mentioned, it can be strong and blatant.

Although hearing with your inner ear is more common, it is also possible to hear a loved one’s actual voice with our outer ear.  For example, I was once told a story about a woman who lost her husband.  A few hours after his death, she heard her husband’s voice as though he was standing right next to her telling her to check his coat pocket.  The voice was very clear and she did as she was told.

She soon discovered that there was money in her husband’s coat pocket.  Apparently, he had gone to the bank that morning to withdraw cash and wanted to make sure his wife knew where the money was. Again, she heard his actual voice.

If you are anxious to hear from your loved one, put the intention out there.  Talk to them and let them know that you want a sign from them.  Keep in mind, however, that you will not hear anything if you are not truly listening.  I’ve found, for example, that I am most apt to hear spirit when I am more relaxed and not trying to do a million things at once.  Remember, three simple steps:

*Ask/Set the Intention

*Quiet Your Mind

*Be Open and Listen

Last night as we were discussing my research and my books, I told my sister’s friend how difficult it was for me in the beginning.  I explained that I was often ridiculed by my family, friends and colleagues.  In response, she looked at me and asked, “How were able to get passed all of that and still do what you do?”

I wasted no time with my response, “Because I know what I experienced was real.”

You Can’t Change People, You Can Only Change Your Reaction

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” Arnold Schwarzenegger

One of life’s hardest lessons is that you can’t change others, you can only change yourself. This is one that I’ve needed to remember many times over the years. Luckily and maybe not so luckily, there is always someone out there reminding me.

courage-be-yourself

Recently, I appeared on a radio show. Prior to airtime, the host called me to talk about our interview. After several minutes, he said, “I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to tell my listeners about your disability.” He then went on to explain, “I think it’s important that they understand why you talk the way that you do.”   To be honest, I was taken back by his words.

Yes, I was born with a disability known as cerebral palsy and, as a result, I also suffer from bilateral hearing loss. I don’t have an issue with talking about my disability at all. In fact, I am proud of everything that I’ve been able to achieve in my life. I’m not by any means perfect but I am certainly perfectly imperfect. This is the first time, however, anyone has ever approached the issue with his choice of words.

Had he said that he felt his listeners should be made aware of my disability that would have been perfectly fine. I wrote a book about my life called, “Footprints in the Sand: A Disabled Woman’s Inspiring Journey to Happiness,” and I’ve also written and spoke of my disability countless times. My disability, as I’ve said many times, is my strength, not my weakness.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what he means by “….understand why you talk the way that you do.” How do I talk? How do I sound? Since I am hearing impaired, I do suffer from a speech impediment but most people don’t recognize it as such. When I first met my husband John, for instance, he thought I had a Boston accent. He was actually surprised when I told him that I was hearing impaired. I think, though, the reason John was surprised to hear about my disability is because I didn’t and still don’t focus on it in my life. To me, it’s not an issue.

Trust me, if I choose to make it an issue, it will be. Likewise, if I choose to focus on my disability then this is, in fact, what others will see. I’ve learned long ago that although my cerebral palsy is part of who I am, it doesn’t define me.

A few weeks after my college graduation, I went for a job interview with an ad agency. It was late on a Friday afternoon and everyone had gone home for the day. It was, therefore, very quiet and it was just me and the project manager (we’ll call her Kate). Kate and I enjoyed a very productive interview and she seemed to like me. So much so that she told me if I wanted the job it was mine. She gave me literature about company benefits and told me to come back the following Monday to meet with the president of the ad agency. When I arrived for my scheduled appointment, Kate bought me over to the president who was sitting at a table in the middle of a crowded, noisy room. Because of this, I had a hard time hearing him and asked him to repeat himself a couple of times.

After answering several questions, Kate asked me to follow her into her office. I assumed she was going to ask me when I could start since she did say the job was mine. Instead, she closed the door, looked at me and point blank asked me, “Josephine, do you have a hearing problem?” I looked at her stunned. “Yes, I do,” I replied.

Kate then looked at me and without any reservation said, “Josephine, let me give you some advice. Get out of the field. You’re never going to make it.” This didn’t sound like advice to me; it was more like a death sentence.

No matter how hard I try I can’t remember how I got from her office back to my car. I guess I have blocked it from my memory. I do remember sitting in my car and crying tears of anger and frustration. My young mind could not understand how this woman could say something like this to me.

When I arrived home that day, I went to my room, closed the door and tried to hide the continuing flow of tears from my mother. There was no fooling her, however. She was soon in my room asking me what had happened. As she held me in comfort, I relayed what Kate had said to me. My mother then said something that I have never forgotten through the years. “Josie,” she told me, “you listen to me. These people are ignorant. You are not the one with the problem; they are!”

My mother was, of course, right but it did little to erase the pain at that point in my life. It did, however, unleash a fire in me to prove people like Kate wrong. But this fire also comes with the innate knowledge that I cannot change what others think about me, I can only change my reaction to their behavior.

Arrogance and ignorance are two different things, however, they can often be interrelated. Arrogance implies a heightened sense of importance and pompous, egotistical behavior while ignorance signifies a lack of awareness, understanding or knowledge. The problem arises when dealing with both qualities in another person.

How then can we deal with ignorance and arrogance?

*Don’t Stoop to Their Level:

Although there is no excuse for egotistical, hurtful behavior, it is important to always remember where this behavior is coming from. Often times, this stems from their need to feel bigger than they are due to the insecurities they may be dealing with.

*Stand Up for Yourself:

Standing up for yourself can be done in one of two ways. You can either voice your opinion in a non-combative way or you can say absolutely nothing. The correct response depends on the personality of the person you are dealing with. Sometimes saying nothing at all speaks the loudest!

*Move on and Let Go:

This one is often the hardest. When dealing with people like this, it’s important to be honest with yourself and know when enough is enough. Sometimes it’s not possible to cut these people out of our lives totally. If it’s a family member or friend, for example, try to disengage and limit the amount of time you spend with them.

I’ve met many people like Kate in my lifetime and I’m sure I will meet many more. I can’t change people like her but I can control my response. I am not perfect and I don’t pretend to be. As I mentioned earlier, I have no idea how my voice really sounds but I do know the sound of my heart. To that, I will always be true.

To Be Or Not To Be . . . Divorced

heartinthesandEvery couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.”Nicholas Sparks

Statistics have shown that between 40 to 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. The rate is even higher for those who remarry with 67 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages ending in divorce. There are a host of reasons why marriages end. Money issues, infidelity, and stress are just a few.

When I was young, I spent a long time wondering when I was going to meet Mr. Right. Now that I’ve just celebrated my 22-year anniversary with my husband John, I can tell you that I don’t believe there is any such thing. The reason for my shift in perspective is simple. I’m not the same person I was 22 years ago and neither is he.

When we chose our wedding song, Beautiful in My Eyes by Joshua Kadison, I never realized then how true the words would become:

“The world will turn
And the seasons will change
And all the lessons we will learn
Will be beautiful and strange
We’ll have our fill of tears
Our share of sighs
My only prayer is that you realize…
You’ll always be beautiful in my eyes”

Through marriage or any relationship, the world will definitely turn and the seasons will change. And through all those changing seasons (raising children, dealing with job losses, health issues, etc.) it is common to fall in and out of love. The trick is to remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place.

According to a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), most divorce cases in the US are due to a lack of communication. This breakdown in communication then leads to infidelity and a multitude of other issues. Logically, then, if you want to keep your marriage going or that spark lit so to speak, you need to keep the lines of communication open.

Sometimes couples become so engrossed in being a parent to their children as responsibilities grow that they forget they are also a wife or a husband to their spouse. So, again, the trick is to remind yourself why you got together in the first place. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make an Effort: Marriage or any relationship is a two-way street. If you want to keep the relationship going, you have to show your partner that you still care by making an effort. Go on a date, surprise your wife with flowers, cook your husband his favorite meal, or just call to say I love you.
  2. Listen: You might read this one and say, “I do listen.” Do you?   Listen to what your spouse or partner has to say first and then voice your opinion or concern. Try to understand where they are coming from.
  3. Revisit Memorable Moments: A good way to recreate that spark or rekindle that loving feeling is to revisit memorable, happy moments. Go back to the place where you first met or your favorite restaurant while dating. Play your wedding song. Go on a second honeymoon. The list is endless.
  4. Do Something for YOU: You can’t love someone else if you don’t feel good about yourself. Don’t lose sight of what is important to you or what makes you happy.
  5. Be Honest: This might seem simple but it’s actually not. I’m not just talking about being honest with your partner. I’m also talking about being honest with yourself. Some marriages and relationships lasts, others don’t. When is enough, enough? Only you can answer that question.

 

Notice I didn’t mention intimacy or sex in the five tips above. Yes, maintaining intimacy is extremely important. Sex is important. But obviously if the feelings aren’t there, there is no intimacy; there is no desire for sex. So, again, try to remember why you fell in love in the first place.

People often say that they need someone to make them feel complete. The truth is, however, you are the only one who can make yourself feel complete. It is normal and necessary for a couple to grow and change after so many years of marriage. The challenge is to continue to find things to love about each person you become.

 

Hello from Heaven: Ask and You Shall Receive

Smile… heaven is watching.”  

 African Proverb

You are watching television but all of a sudden you could swear that you saw someone from the corner of your eye.  How many times has this happened to you?  Seeing a glimpse of a person in spirit or even seeing a shadowy figure are actually very common.  Our loved ones do not want to scare us by appearing full on so this is their way of being subtle and non-aggressive.

angelcardAlthough our loved ones will most often appear to us in our dreams, they do appear to us when we are awake.  Clairvoyance means clear seeing or the ability to see beyond our ordinary perception.  There are different ways that this can happen.  For example, you may see an ethereal figure or mist.  You may even see an orb.  Often times, these orbs will present themselves in photos.

It is easier to receive messages from spirit clairvoyantly or in other ways when you are relaxed and not distracted.  Recently, I was in California visiting a good friend of mine.  My husband and two daughters decided to spend the day at Universal Studios while I spent the day with my friend.  That morning as we waited at the hotel for our rented vehicle, a dragonfly kept flying back and forth in front of my face.

As I watched it, I told my husband that I felt this was a sign that my friend’s deceased sister was going to be there with us.  Later in the day in my friend’s apartment, we decided to take out a deck of angel cards that had belonged to her sister.  I shuffled the cards and asked her to focus as she randomly reached for a card.

She handed me her chosen card and I read it aloud.  The card mentioned that she needed to pay more attention to signs from her loved ones and trust in the signs that she was receiving.  As I continued to read, I suddenly saw a glimpse of someone walk passed me on my left side.  Shocked, I stopped reading and asked my friend if she had just seen what I saw.  She had no idea what I was talking about.

I told her that I could sense her sister’s long hair and felt she was there with us.  Still stunned, it was my turn to pick a card.  In my mind before picking the card, I asked her sister to tell me if that was really her and, if so, asked her what was the message she wanted to share.  I then randomly reached for a card picking the “Hello from Heaven” card. It was a message from Archangel Azrael.  It read:

“Your loved ones in Heaven are doing fine.  Let go of worries, and feel their loving blessings.

“Your loved ones aren’t far away; in fact, they’re quite near.  In your quiet moments, you can feel their presence.  These really are true visitations, and I ask you to trust your intuition.  You may notice dream visits from deceased loved ones.  Know that your loved ones are happy, free of all suffering, and want the same for you.  Your loved ones want to work with your guardian angels to help you be peaceful, so watch for other signs from Heaven.”

I told my friend that I wanted to pick another card.  Again, I randomly reached for a card.  In my mind, I then asked what the angels would like me to know.  This time, I picked the clairvoyance card with a message from Archangel Raziel.  It read:

“I’m helping your spiritual sight to awaken fully so you can clearly see Heavenly love.

“Your clairvoyance may come in different forms: as fleeting mental images in your mind’s eye; as dreams; as recurring sights in the physical world; as auras and energy; or as apparition experiences.  All of the facets of clairvoyance are beautiful and varied.  Enjoy and trust them.  Hold the intention of seeing only love, and that is what you’ll see.”

We both sat there looking at each other both stunned and amazed.  Is everything a sign from a loved one?  No, absolutely not.  Do I believe her sister was really with us that day?  Yes, I do.  Do I believe her sister and the angels were communicating with us?  Yes, again!

What is important to note here is that the signs were both timely and specific.    That morning, I encountered the dragonfly outside of my hotel.  Dragonflies are known to symbolize the afterlife. Later the first card drawn by my friend encouraged her to trust in the signs that she was receiving.

At that same time, I saw a quick glimpse of her sister on my left side.  However, I was questioning whether or not what I saw was really her.  So I drew a card asking her sister if she had a message to share.  I then randomly choose the “Hello from Heaven” card.

Stunned and wanting more proof, I then choose another card asking the angels if they have a message for me.  This time I randomly choose the “Clairvoyance” card. This card encouraged me to trust what I was seeing.   Again, these signs were both timely and specific.

One of my favorite Bible passages is “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (KJV)  Our loved ones are much closer than most of us realize.  They want us to know that they are OK and they want to help us in any way that they can.  All we have to do is ask.