By Georgia Grellier | Illustration by Xixi Qin
People tend to forget that there is a time and a place for optimism. It’s useful as an expectation, for example, but not as an assumption — we’re often best off preparing for everything to go wrong and assuming that things will go right. It’s not usually helpful when it’s mandatory, and it’s definitely not helpful when it’s disingenuous. As the Trump administration’s botched response to COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc and tragedy on countless families and individuals, optimism for a more stable future only seems to be effective when grounded in a validation of its incongruence with the difficulty of the present.
We’re all guilty of spouting lazy platitudes when we want to be comforting but don’t know what to say. It’s probably cliché to complain about clichés like “Stay positive!” and “Look on the bright side!” or to criticize the perma-smiles they come with. The intent behind those phrases is almost always good, and I don’t mean to take human kindness and compassion for granted. In times of crisis (for others or for ourselves), many of us feel the urge to help. Often, there are few ways for us to do that directly. The use of vaguely inspirational words to string together some loosely coherent message of hope can be a wonderful (albeit temporary) fix for one’s own feeling of helplessness. Sometimes comfort comforts the comforter. In the end, there are far worse things than trying to make someone else feel better.
In sum, “Everything happens for a reason!” should be off limits to almost all of us. There is, however, an exception, and her name is Britney Jean Spears.
It’s well known that Spears has had a rocky 20 years. Even after her 2007 mental health crisis, she’s endured family, relationship, and legal crises. Amid these hardships, Spears has successfully rebuilt her life, and the era of shaving her head and trying to hit paparazzi with an umbrella is long over. Britney is “stronger than yesterday,” and if you don’t believe me (or do), look at her Instagram.
Spears posts things like stock images of flowers with superimposed quotes like “Always believe in magic” and “you can.” There are many things that I can’t do, but she is allowed to tell me “you can.” anyway. Life is hard, and being a woman of the people, Spears gets that. On May 4 she posted “TODAY I AM EXCITED ABOUT EVERYTHING,” so I got excited too. When her home gym burned down (which is a rich person problem and also kind of her fault), she posted a smiley video of her describing the incident and stated in her caption that she prefers working out outdoors anyway. She posted a video of her breaking her foot while dancing and didn’t even seem that upset about it. No one rolls with the punches like Britney.
She paints! She dances for no reason! She calls for wealth distribution! Yes, she is rich, and yes, her giant house seems super nice, but lest we forget, Spears has been through some shit. If I myself had a deeply painful mental health crisis and the whole world ridiculed me for the next 13 years, I would probably not post such things on Instagram or be very excited about the world. I’ve yet to meet anyone for whom “Stay positive!” has done really anything at all, except me when it’s said by Britney. She’s the queen of optimism and the guiding light in our current apocalyptic moment — really, Britney’s Instagram is the only thing holding this country together right now. We are all stronger than yesterday, and it’s true because she said so.