It could be that happiness has been elusive over the last year. Or maybe happiness hasn’t so much been elusive as it’s just been hard to smile behind a mask. But if you’re walking or driving, biking or rollerblading around St. Petersburg and you happen to look up, you may notice that happiness is everywhere.
There are 205 happiness signs nailed to Oak trees and telephone poles throughout St. Petersburg. The signs are made of aluminum and fiberglass so that they can withstand the weather for the next 20 years, and are placed at least 12 feet high so that no one can steal them.
Gary King holds the hammer behind the signs. He started in November 2019 in Treasure Island as a way to combat his own struggles with complex PTSD, and after the first sign was taken down (because of a city ordinance) he nailed one to the city limits sign on 58th Street and 39th Avenue. He carries ten signs around with him at any given time as well as a ladder.
“The signs are all over,” King said. “They’re in Shore Acres and south St. Pete and on U.S. 19. I have people contacting me all the time asking me to put signs up outside of their houses.”
Gary King is the author of The Happiness Formula and has travelled all over the world as a motivational speaker and presenter.
On the Monday before last year’s presidential election, the Tampa Bay Times contacted King and told him that they wanted him on the front page of the edition. They said they knew there would be a lot of unhappy people following the election and that they wanted to remind people to be happy.
King is pretty methodical when it comes to hammering the signs. He tries to put them in places with high traffic such as busy intersections and outside of schools. He put one on a tree on the outskirts of Vinoy Park but after the Times ran their story, someone stole the sign and accused King of killing the trees.
He insisted that he wasn’t killing the trees, that he just wanted to give them a word upon which to reflect.
“Words have energies,” he said through his flip phone. “And happiness resonates on a higher frequency than other words.”
King pays to make the signs himself but sells them for twenty dollars each. When he started his goal was 100 signs and is proud that both the 100 and 200 anniversary signs are in storefronts on Central Avenue.
“Because of all the trauma that I’ve been through, I need a reason to stay,” he said. “Serving the community gives me a reason to stay.”