Dandelion Girl: How A Photo Of My Younger Self Makes Me A Happier Person

My exuberance over these freshly-plucked perennials reminds me that the little things truly are the big things.

My exuberance over these freshly-plucked perennials reminds me that the little things truly are the big things.

Of all the items that make up my workspace, it’s a picture of me holding a bunch of dandelions that never fails to put a smile in my heart. In this May 1979 picture, I carry an expression that’s nothing short of being as pleased as punch.  

And for a good reason: I’m clasping a bunch of weeds in my hands. 

That right there is what speaks to me every time I look at it — and why this image is so significant. There’s so much meaning in its simplicity. My exuberance over these freshly-plucked perennials reminds me that the little things truly are the big things.

Decades later, that’s what still matters most.

Sure, I could showcase my college diploma front and center on the wall before me. I could display various volunteer certificates or employee awards on my desk. But I’ll have none of that. This framed picture of me, frozen in time when so much else in life has occurred since then — and so much remains unknown — continually reassures me that everything is and will be okay. 

If I’m struggling to find my happy spot amid post-election moods and behaviors, the upcoming holidays, or how on earth I lost my keys (again), one look at that happy Dandelion Girl gets me back on track. It shouts, “Stop worrying. Remember me. Return to me. Get lost in the moment.” 

There I am, worry-free and thrilled to pieces, delighted over a cluster of puffy white seeds that most adult homeowner’s today curse with a vengeance. In looking at the image, I can’t help but return to carefree, kid-at-heart me again. Sometimes I lose sight of this, but this picture makes sure I don’t let it slip away entirely. It reminds me not to let sadness or frustration or anger linger too long, for there is joy to be found even in the sometimes tangled up, unpredictable, weedy mess of this thing called life. 

Suddenly, that to-do list or recent road rage incident goes by the wayside.

Little Dandelion Girl is a reassuring, comforting reminder of happiness at its core. Heck, she’s even confident. 

Had this pic been taken of me a few years back during a particularly critical body image phase, I admit I’d be horrified. I’d insist that the photographer take another cell phone image. And another, until it was just right. In this picture, I’d see crooked bangs and teeth to match, a right foot that’s awkwardly teetering on its outer side, and a clenched fist in my other hand. I’d surely want to pose to smile smaller so I could hide less-than-perfect teeth, touch up those bangs real quick, and make sure both feet are standing flat on the ground in perfect alignment. 

However, none of us are ever really standing with both feet flat on the ground, are we? I know I’m not.

There are always moments of instability, fragility, and change. It’s in those times of getting carried away — by our success, our busy schedules, the pleasant circumstances and heart-wrenching ones — that we learn and grow. We’re imperfect souls who may never get our feet firmly rooted in one perfect place, and that’s okay. I’m always on the path towards personal improvement and self-discovery, and this image, with its imperfect footing, reminds me of that. We’re grounded. We’re not. It’s this realization that also makes me happy.

Besides, all of that fuss in the quest for picture-taking perfection would surely mean there’d be more time for the wind to whisk the dandelion seeds away. I might have been left with better hair, but I’d also be holding onto stems. Sometimes our striving for something more or better in our adult lives rips the whimsy right out of our hands.  I’ll take the silly bangs and the dandelion bouquet.

Overall, it’s an image that reminds me to stop being so hard on myself.

When moments of self-criticism and self-doubt slip in (I should have conveyed my thoughts to my friend more succinctly, I should have tried to turn that article in even sooner, I wonder if my children’s picture book ever come to fruition, I don’t know if I should eat that other cookie, etc.), Little Dandelion Girl makes me happier.  

That picture is the same me who didn’t have a care in the world, especially while rocking those awesome pants, funky foot pose, and cool barrettes. I bet that girl wouldn’t have given a second thought to having another cookie (or two) or doubting that someone would believe in her book. And so I harness the energy of that image, reminding myself that it was okay then and it will be okay now. The outcome is a happiness brimming with joy and simplicity.

I am centered and made happier by this past image of me, calmed by a moment in time that’s since been exposed to the ebbs and flows of life — of deaths and job losses and weddings and kittens.

In between it all, I’m still that little girl, searching for and always optimistically believing in fields of glorious dandelions.

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