The Five Gyms of Happiness

You might remember that last month’s newsletter topic was supposed to be HAPPINESS because March 20th was the “International Day of Happiness”. However it was also my late husband's (Steve), 10th death anniversary, so GRIEF became our topic instead.

Now I’m ready to come back over the rainbow, to the happy side.

Let’s be HAPPY for a change, what do you say?

There are many different definitions of happiness depending on whom you speak to.

Personally, I’m a Pharrell Williams type of happy:

“(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I'm happy)
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do"

Notice: he and I both start with “Because I’m happy” (remember the February newsletter, where I was sharing how I felt when I was a little girl – spilling over with happiness?). For those of us with “glass half-full” or “rose-colored glasses” type of vision, happiness is easy because it’s built in. Luckily, we were “born this way” which, as oozing happiness can be catching (a little bit like kindness…), serves others around us as well.

Suzanne, my first born who gave me the best gift on the planet when she made me a Mama Jar, knew this about me and captured it as one of the 180 love notes in the jar: 

“You choose how to see the world and you put on colorful glasses”

For everyone else, here’s the good news: happiness can be considered as a muscle that we can build by going to one of the five “gyms of happiness”:

1     Happiness through Mindfulness


If you speak to the mindfulness crowd, such as Dada Vaswani, they will tell you:

“Happiness, true happiness, is an inner quality. It is a state of mind. If your mind is at peace, you are happy. If your mind is at peace, but you have nothing else, you can be happy. If you have everything the world can give - pleasure, possessions, power - but lack peace of mind, you can never be happy.”

Kelsang Gyatso adds:


“The purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and peaceful. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness. But if our mind is not peaceful, we will find it very difficult to be happy, even if we are living in the very best conditions.”

They haven’t invented anything. Seneca (stoic philosopher born in the year -4) had already said this:


“True happiness is to enjoy the present,
without anxious dependence upon the future.”

So, one of the ways to happiness is mindfulness, which you can read more about here.

At the mindfulness “gym of happiness”, you can build your happiness muscles by practicing the “Three Blessings Exercise” daily. I call it “the brushing of the teeth of the soul” because, like brushing your teeth, it should become a daily habit to keep your soul fresh, healthy and happy. You can find a description and explanation of the Three Blessings Exercise in the FREE Resources Section on The Challenge Coach website.

What three things are you grateful for today?
(Hint: check out the exercise description in the free resource area)

Our true home is in the present moment. 
To live in the present moment is a miracle. 
The miracle is not to walk on water. 
The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,
 to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. 
Peace is all around us – 
in the world and in nature – 
and within us-
 in our bodies and our spirits. 
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed. 
It is not a matter of faith; 
it is a matter of practice.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness could be a walk in the woods without your phone.

2     Happiness through Finding Meaning

Happiness as a result of finding our deep meaning (or purpose) is found in the traditional Japanese concept of Ikigai, which means “a reason for living” (“Iki” to live and “gai” reason) and dates back to the Heian period (794 to 1185).

Ken Mogi is a neuroscientist, and is considered the researcher-author who best represents the authentic concept of Ikigai. His book, “The Little Book of Ikigai”, discusses the five pillars of Ikigai:

  1. Starting small
  2. Releasing yourself (knowing and accepting who you are)
  3. Harmony and sustainability (sense of community and inter connectedness, wellbeing of the community and the world at large)
  4. The joy of little things (linked to early childhood, appreciating sensory pleasures)
  5. Being in the here and now (finding your flow. Mindfulness, anyone?!)

Mogi says:

“I think being a child all over again is the key to happiness in your life”.


When was the last time you looked at the world as if you were a child and had a sense of wonderment?

Helen Keller added:

“True happiness... is not attained through self-gratification,
but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”


Closer to us, this same idea was researched and developed by Positive Psychology and its founder, Martin Seligman, in particular in his book “Authentic Happiness”. Seligman develops the idea that we need to find what our top strengths are (our authentic selves), and then live our lives in resonance or harmony with these top strengths. John W. Gardner agrees:

“True happiness involves the full use of one's power and talents.”

Once we have found our deep purpose (Ikigai) and we put those Values in Action (Positive Psychology), we reach a state of flow.

So, one of the ways to happiness is through finding one’s strengths and purpose and living accordingly.

Do you know what YOUR Ikigai/strengths are?
(Hint: check the 'Services in the Spotlight' feature below)

When you launch yourself having found your Ikigai, you will defy gravity.

3     Happiness through Contribution

If you speak to the Adlerian crowd, they might tell you something such as what Marla Gibbs said: 

“In my life I've learned that true happiness comes from giving.”

Alfred Adler (a doctor and psychiatrist from the early 20th century in Vienna, Austria, the founder of Individual Psychology and the grandfather of coaching), stated that what makes us mentally healthy is to develop a sense of significance by contributing (aka “social interest”). Contributing gives us a deep sense of personal meaning and a feeling that we count and make a difference; and contributing to the world, the greater good, others, is easy to do once we have found what our gifts/values/Ikigai are.

What are YOU contributing to the world?
(Hint: it doesn’t have to be something big!)

Contributing could be saving dogs from the kill shelter by fostering them.

4     Happiness through Connection and Love

Adler also said that humans are social beings who desire almost more than anything else to have a sense of belonging and connection to others. We explored this in depth in February's newsletter. As Jason Becker says:

“I guess I would say true happiness is to love and be loved.”

Who are you connected to and share love with?
(Hint: it can be more than one person)

The love I share with my two daughters puts a smile THIS BIG on my face.

5     Happiness through Smiles and Laughter

Did you know that we have 43 muscles in our face? According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” about intuition, we can actually trick our bodies to feel an emotion by putting on the “mask” of that emotion: we can make our bodies feel the physiology of sadness by making a sad face, the physical sensations of anger by putting on an angry face… but who would want THAT??!!!

What we all can use, though, is more happiness!

Try this now – nobody is watching: close your eyes, put a big smile on your face for about 5 seconds (even if you don’t “feel happy” in this moment), and as you keep smiling, FEEL the sensations in your body. Do you feel it? That’s dopamine (the “feel-good” hormone) cursing through your body.

According to a recent study published in the journal Experimental Psychology, researchers found that smiling — even a fake smile — can have a positive impact on our mood. Essentially, triggering certain facial muscles by smiling can "trick" our brain into thinking we are happy. It’s called the facial feedback hypothesis: neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. Faking a smile works just as well as the real thing because the brain doesn't differentiate between real or fake as it interprets the positioning of the facial muscles in the same way.

Here’s another note from the Mama Jar:

Sometimes you laugh so hard for so long and it is so contagious 🙂


A smile to put your body and self in happy mode is easy, fast, and available at all times. Even better and more powerful is laughter, whether pretend or real. And you guessed it, thanks to the mirror neurons in our brains it is also CATCHING! Spread that happiness around!

What makes you smile and laugh?
(Hint: try watching a video that makes you laugh)

Which of the five gyms of happiness are you going to choose to go to?

If all of this is a little confusing and you don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to get in touch...

FREE Resources

I'm delighted to introduce you to the FREE resources section of my website. This is where you will find the Three Blessings exercise mentioned above, and many more invaluable tools. In this section, we share a wealth of information tied to all the coaching topics which could be useful to you (coaching itself, but also various forms of therapy, wellness, mindfulness and meditation, pregnancy, birth and parenting, expatriation, career development, NVC, relationships, self-help etc.):

  • Coaching tools and assessments
  • A list of books
  • A list of curated articles
  • A list of useful links to organizations
  • A directory of “People I love”, who are colleagues and partners we recommend in various areas related to coaching (specialty coaches, therapists, crisis centers, lawyers, health and wellness centers etc.)

I hope you find it useful!

Joue Ta Vie IKIGAI

I’m proud to announce that I recently added the “Joue Ta Vie IKIGAI” certification to my toolbox.

The Joue Ta Vie (Play Your Life) IKIGAI method is a 90-minute coaching exercise that is both incredibly powerful and playful; it will help you reconnect to your inner child and discover your Ikigai: your “reason for being” a.k.a. your purpose in life. As incredible as it may seem, it can be absolutely life changing. At a minimum, it is profoundly transformative and wholesome.

The Joue Ta Vie IKIGAI Coaching is for YOU if you:

  • Have the feeling that you have gotten lost along the way or that you are in survival mode.
  • Wonder about the meaning of your life and more generally about the meaning of life.
  • Are thinking of taking a new career path, but you haven’t dared take the plunge.
  • Seek to unravel the mystery of your "mission".
  • Want to know yourself better, to feel like you belong, are useful and energized.

This tool can be used as a stand-alone coaching session, or as part of an on-going relationship.

Sounds good right!? Find out more here.

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