I have written before about my daughter Vanessa who has Down syndrome. She is a fun, spunky person who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She rarely gets discouraged and is happy just to be alive. Vanessa bounces through life singing and dancing as she goes.
Even though she’s a happy soul who is content with her life, there are things for her learn and improve in. One of the areas is being healthy. Because of the Down syndrome she would rather sit than be up and moving. It’s just easier for her. People with Down syndrome have lower muscle tone which makes it harder for them to do physical things. It doesn’t mean she can’t do them it just means she has to work a little harder at it. So exercising is not one of her favorite things. It’s not one of my favorite things either.
We have to be creative to get her to exercise. She takes dance classes which she loves, so that’s easy. She also has a dance app on her Nintendo, which is exercise and fun for her. We also often go for walks, and I used to have to drag her a long until I hit upon a Scavenger Walk. We make a list before leaving the house of things to look for, or sometimes we guess how many white cars we’ll see, or something similar. Before long, even though she hates walks she’s cheerfully counting cars or looking for birdhouses. She finds joy even in walks.
Vanessa also loves to eat! There are very few foods she doesn’t like. Of course this is good and bad. Good because she’ll try new foods and usually like them. Bad because we have to do portion control because she doesn’t know when to stop eating. We really try to emphasize being healthy and not weight. I do worry about her weight though.
Vanessa has learned to weigh herself, which she does nightly. That’s another thing about her-she tends to be OCD. Even If I tell her she doesn’t need to worry about weighing herself so often it doesn’t matter. She will do it every night. But the funny thing is that no matter what weight the digital scale indicates, she always says, “not bad!” in a gleeful voice. She knows the target number for her weight but whatever the number is, she is happy with it.
Every day she also asks me what we are having for dinner. Whatever I reply she always (and I really mean always) says, “my favorite!” Sometimes, I tell her it’s a new recipe that I have never made before, so it couldn’t be her favorite. It doesn’t matter, because now it’s her new favorite. These are just a few of the ways she exudes happiness. Some of the ways she finds the positive.
I have thought about her joyful approach to life. The way she is just happy with what she has and who she is. It really is very inspiring. I have heard that people with Down syndrome are often thought of as happy people. I wondered if this concept was really true, so I did a little research about it. What I found was truly remarkable.
One study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that people with Down syndrome were generally happy people. In this study researchers asked 284 “…people with Down syndrome, ages 12 and older, about their self-perception so that their information could be shared with new and expectant parents of children with Down syndrome.” They found that, “Among those surveyed, nearly 99% of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97% liked who they are; and 96% liked how they look.” (Skotko, B. G., Levine, S. P., & Goldstein, R. (2011). Self-perceptions from people with Down syndrome. American journal of medical genetics. Part A, 155A(10), 2360–2369. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.a.34235)
I debated about including the numbers from their study but the findings were so remarkable I decided share them. How often can 97% of a group of people say they are not only happy with their lives but happy with themselves and happy with how they look?
I think most of us would like to be able to say we are in that 97% group and we happy with our lives and our selves, and our looks. Unfortunately I think many of us try to measure up to some worldly standard and have many negative self thoughts. We beat ourselves up because we’re not size 6. We ignore the good about ourselves and focus on what isn’t. Often we judge our worth by the number on the scales. Maybe we have things to learn from those with Down syndrome. I know I do.
Just like Vanessa I would like to be able to find the fun in exercise, step on the scales and say “not bad,” and declare whatever I’m eating as my favorite! Mostly I would like to be able to do these things because it means I’ve learned to be happy with who I am. It means I recognize that really my weight and body shape has very little importance in the scheme of things. It means the my worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale.
Vanessa has taught me a lot over the years. In her cheery, joyful way she is also teaching me how to be happy.