If you wanted to be born into an ideal situation to live a happy life, would you rather be born
A) Good looking, intelligent and to a wealthy family
B) With mental retardation, stunted growth and a slew of abnormal facial characteristics advertising that you have down syndrome?
I’m sure it took you all of half a second to choose option A.
But you would be wrong..
A slew of recent studies has shown that people with Down Syndrome report happier lives than us ‘normal’ folk. Even happier than rich, good looking and intelligent people.
Talk about counter-intuitive, huh?
Findings from a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics surveyed 284 people with Down syndrome ..the results were as follows..
The average age was 23, and 84 percent were living with one or both parents/guardians. The findings:
- 99 percent said they were happy with their lives
- 97 percent liked who they are
- 96 percent liked how they look
- 86 percent indicated they could make friends easily
- 4 percent expressed sadness about their life.
I spent 2 years studying the relationship between money and happiness in a grad school laboratory and I can guarantee you that wealthy, intelligent, good looking people don’t report anything close to those numbers. Those numbers are absolutely remarkable.
And it’s not just that a larger percentage of people with Down’s are happier than average, but people with DS experience a sense of joy and contentment with life above that of even normal happy people as this study showed.
The Big Question..Why are people with Down Syndrome so happy?
If I had to guess I would offer the following two hypothesis..
1) People with down syndrome are loved and cared for. Studies show that 79% of parents with those with down syndrome said their outlook on life had improved since having their child and that 94% of siblings of those with down children were proud of their DS brother or sister.
2) People with down syndrome don’t overthink. With the absence of stress caused by excessive rumination, people with down syndrome live more in the present moment and are able to enjoy life. They aren’t bugged by the constant worries that plague the mind of the average person.
Not that DS people don’t have their troubles, they obviously do. But the degree to which their moment-to-moment consciousness is filled up with worries about traffic, bills, being late to work, getting everything done in time, imaginary conversations with people, etc etc, is likely less than of a normal person.
This would lead further evidence to my hypothesis that happiness is the default state of the human mind, it is only with the unnatural stress of modern life that our minds become overactive and we become unhappy. People with Down Syndrome, by way of their cognitive disability, have protection from these burdens..
I have a cousin with down syndrome, and I can tell you he has few scruples about what people think of him, a sort of freedom that I envy.
Of course, things aren’t always perfect for those with down syndrome, life still has it’s challenges, like when your kayak overflows with water and begins to sink….
And then struggle to get back on..