With the problems that the world faced in the last year and the problems it is likely to face, it’s no wonder that there’s been an increase in depression and anxiety. It’s depressing even thinking about looking up the numbers to tell us exactly how bad things have gotten, even if you yourself haven’t experienced personal loss directly tied to the circumstances of the world. Shaking our fists at the sky can feel cathartic, but it’s not any more effective than it was before at actually helping us deal with what we are struggling with personally. So, how do we cope with it all?

There are plenty of bad coping mechanisms out there to choose from, but of all the good ones the most accessible one I can think of is laughter. Laughter has many known benefits that can improve mental health. These include relieving stress with the release of endorphins, easing anxiety and tension with serotonin, and strengthening resilience and hope. In this case, comedic relief can also bring people together, provide a sense of belonging, shift perspective from the problems at hand, and focus more on hope and meaning.

One of the nice things about humor is that you don’t have to go far to find it if you’re looking for. Often the best places to look are the signs outside your local businesses. Imagine driving by the sign that said, “Due to the quarantine, I’ll only be doing inside jokes.” How about “Why am I the only naked person at this gender reveal party?” For those private sorts of people, why not “NO TRESSPASSING – We are tired of hiding the bodies” for some dark humor? Want to make your humor diverse? How about A Japanese bathroom sign that says “Male Man” for the English translation underneath? “Everything we sell sucks” is a great sign for a vacuum store. Thinking of safety and consequences? “Touching wires causes instant death – $200 fine.” Good luck collecting…

“El Arroyo”, a Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas, is the culprit of many funny signs like these, and the Pandemic was no exception to their now infamous storefront sign. They pulled all the stops and helped many people improve their mood, not just with tacos and queso (heroic as that might be) but with much-needed laughter. Considering how many small business owners (you know, real people) have had to stress and be anxious about their livelihoods, it’s an act of courage to spread humor in dark times.

If there is anything that we have learned from this situation; there will always be unprecedented events over which we won’t have any control. There will always be a reason to worry, stress, and lose hope. But the act of laughing or merely smiling can change all of that. So, the next time you are bored, upset, stuck in a rut, or depressed grab some sign letters, craft materials, or whatever is at hand and make a funny sign for yourself or your neighbors. Display it proudly and remember to laugh a little – especially when you don’t feel like it.