Williamsburg Brooklyn is one of the most popular places in New York City. It is heavily populated and a tourist destination for people from all over the globe. Every amenity possible exists in this particular neighborhood and there is one new neighborhood business that we are quite charmed by called, The Happinest. Founded by Aussie born and bred, Charlotte Gibson, this meditation space is just the quiet space we need on the block. When we entered the space for the first time, we immediately felt calm at the sound of Charlotte’s voice. There is an evanescent warmth that overcomes you when you sit in the articulated chairs. We felt right at home. We caught up with Charlotte who is busy teaching classes to moms, children, couples and groups of all backgrounds to learn a bit more about her philosophy and why she chose to open this quaint meditation studio in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
So Charlotte, what inspired you to open The Happinest?
I have been inspired to open what is now known at “The Happinest” for as long as I can remember.
Inspirations started when I was young and dealing with the common dealings of parents divorcing, moving schools, moving houses, family emotions, deaths, school academic and social pressures and more. As a child, there were little resources to draw on to understand the way I felt in response to situations, both good and bad, and little support on how to manage my emotions.
When I was 12 years old I was adamant on, and expressed to my mum, that I was to have four kids when I grew up, and that I was going to own a children’s store with gifts and magical experiences for kids, called “4 kids”.
When I became a school classroom teacher, I found the emotional and social wellbeing of my students my number one priority. I myself had only just begun my inward journey through meditation, yoga and mindfulness and was transforming day by day. Just as a parent or teacher with a passion for writing would encourage their children to write, I motivated my class of 23 to begin their inner journey alongside me.
Following the integration of daily mindfulness practice, discussions on values and emotional exercises, I found the student outcomes extraordinarily positive. Students began to clearly articulate their emotions, explore their behaviour and collaborate better within teams. My peers and the parents reported that the students had become more insightful and interested individuals as a result of these practices.
Most impressively, my students themselves stated that daily mindfulness meditation and exercises allowed them to ‘just be’, ‘be more respectful and less reactive in relationships with friends’ and ‘not get so frustrated when losing in soccer’ (to name just a few).
My passion progressed, and I found myself writing the emotional and social learning capabilities for the Australian national curriculum and running Mindfulness programs in education for the teachers and students with my organization Mini Mindful Minds.
Meanwhile, I developed the resource Mindfulness Box for Minis for teachers and parents to seamlessly integrate mindfulness into the day. It brought me so much joy to hear of schools and families around the world using the activities to promote calm, and contentment.
When I moved to New York, I began working in the corporate side of the wellness industry and continued to look after families on the side. I learnt a great deal from both. The main things:
The need to support women, and men, trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and most of all, in the first stages of welcoming a new baby into your life.
How I needed to be in the front facing part of the ‘healing’ industry, working with people, and showing up for people in order to personally feel fulfilled.
How much I missed working with many children on a daily basis.
The need for more opportunities for people to connect to themselves and one another.
It is hard to articulate the way I feel (which is rare coming from me, ha) in this surreal moment of my life. It truly is a dream come true, and I am so eager and excited to share mindfulness, meditation, connection and clarity to the community.
What about your philosophy do you think resonates with the community?
I believe that you can learn practical tools and techniques to promote insight, contentment and calm in all staged of your life, including at the age of two years old. Williamsburg primarily feels family and community based and has people interested and open to becoming their best selves. I hope to have added to the many vehicles to getting there.
The Happinest is not committed to one way to achieving calm, clarity and connection. I hope that our diverse, yet intimate experiences, resonate with the local community, allowing them to find their wellbeing practice, at any stage of their life.
We love your clean aesthetic and product selections what influences led your design and retail curation choices?
Well first of all, thank you, and it takes a good eye, to know one!
I wanted to keep retail choices refined, and limited to a few brands per category. I have curated a small selection of local retailers in which I believe in. The last thing I wanted to do was add too many options, making it a difficult experience to choose from (like trying to pick a movie from the movie store/or on TV). My retail products are there to compliment the practice and add to a greater quality of life.
This is the same when creating the visual space. I wanted the aesthetics to lend themselves to all ages, in a calming and uncluttered way. Our homes, and sacred spaces can mimic our minds- so I chose to create a space intended to promote a clear, calm and connected mind and body.
You’re new to Brooklyn, what are some of your favorite things about the neighborhood?
The immediate realization that life does not have to move at a million miles per hour as it felt in Manhattan. The need not to walk so fast and miss out on the beauty of what is around.
Being able to look at the city and appreciate it from across a body of water.
Supporting local businesses.
The evident energy shift as soon as you step out from the subway.
With Happinest, how do you hope to foster community?
Our intention is to create a home-like nest where our guests have the support and space to share with one another. For the new mom who has not left the house in weeks, for the boy at school who wants to laugh and share, for the Y7 yogi where savasana was not long enough, our passion lies strong and will hopefully shine through.
There is such a spotlight on mental health right now, how do you see your passion and new venture being a part of the larger discussion and movement amplifying mental health?
As mentioned several times above, I believe that a practice to support one’s mental health can, and should, begin in the early years and continue throughout your life in ways that resonate.
I have already had many questions, and some pffts & laughs, about children’s meditation. I hope in offering this space and these experiences, to spread awareness on how small practices can make a HUGE impact on our mental and physical health.
What are some of your favorite classes that ground practitioners in self-care?
I don’t know what I would do without my acupuncturist, Liz Carlson at Common Point. She has been my biggest support in all areas of self-care. We will be joining forces for regular workshops at The Happinest. I love it when I find a grounding yoga class.
At home in Australia, I had several meditation classes of all different roots that I miss immensely, and which I wish to incorporate into my classes.
I took a surprise “street” dancing class the other evening which left me feeling like a giggling, joyous child again, which I appreciate so much.
What’s your go-to routine for mindfulness and wellbeing?
Just like the rest of us, I do not obtain a ‘perfect’ mindfulness and wellbeing routine, there are peaks and bouts in my practice. I love the word ‘practice’ as it emphasizes that mindfulness and meditation is something that you are continuously working on. I try and maintain a formal practice of sitting and observing my mental activity at least once a day. I also love reading anything related to the world of wellbeing. I question myself a lot “Where did that come from?” in relation to responses and behaviours. My partner jokes that that will be the title of my next book.
In saying that, the more committed I am to my practice the larger my life is. I wrote this 5 years ago.
Why do you practice meditation?
Mediation came into my life unintentionally. I wasn’t seeking calm. More accurately, I wasn’t aware that I wanted to be, or could be, calmer. I really wasn’t aware of much.
I began yoga, much to my hesitation, following a recommendation from a friend. I was battling digestive issues, and had been seeing a naturopath to address them. Yoga was apparently an alternate way to heal many of the issues I was living with. A very close family friend happened to have just opened a Mindfulness Studio- Happy Melon around the corner from my home and suggested I come in for a tour.
The moment I stepped foot in the studio, I was greeted by warm faces, a beautiful and serene environment which immediately made me feel at home. Following my introduction week, packed full of pilates and yoga, I committed to becoming a foundation member. It wasn’t until the third week into my membership that I decided to join a meditation class. I had no expectations, from what I remember. What I do remember, vividly, is what I was wearing, where and how I was sitting and the sound of my first teacher’s voice.
A few moments into the guided meditation class, I found myself spinning into what felt like a downward sucking whirlpool. I was extremely anxious, so much so, I felt paralysed. I couldn’t send the message to my head to move, or to my eyes to open. Afterwards, I spoke to the teacher and told her of my experience. She ensured me that the more I practice, the easier it would get.
Over the first month, I discovered that I was controlling so much of my life, and was bringing that need to control things into my meditation practice. The moment I felt myself relaxing into a different state, I sent myself into a severely paralysing, anxiety written spiral. I am thankful for this start, as it emphasised a major reason for me to continue. I am proud and grateful that I persisted through those initial circumstances.
The benefits of regular meditation practice have been unraveling to this date and only assume they will continue to. Many, I put straight away to the fact I was practicing daily yoga and meditation, others came to be by surprise.
Before meditating, I would complain about pain in the stomach, energy levels, headaches, A LOT. The words ‘I feel sick,’ would roll off my tongue before I even realised I had said it. I thought it was unfair, and I spent a lot of time, and money at my local GP. When I think about it today, that time of my life almost seems like a distant blurred memory, a bad dream. With the addition of a change of diet, regular holistic naturopathy visits, yoga and meditation has changed this. I would almost like to say, it has healed this part of my life. Not only do I not as often feel sick, but I have changed my relationship with my body and how I would normally react when I was feeling sick. I allow feelings to be there, whether wanted or unwanted, and welcome, investigate and nourish them in a positive way. I don’t remember the last time I have said the words, ‘I feel sick.’
Consequently, my energy levels are at a maximum. I am excited and happy to get up before the sun rises to practise meditation. I feel energized and use my newfound energy to do the things that make me content- yoga, walks, formal mediation, pilates, work and relationships.
Another benefit of meditation, is my improved ability to make decisions, big and small. This change happened less to my awareness than some of the others. It was when I hadn’t mediated for over a week, that my co worker stated he had noticed I was unable to make a basic decision- what I felt like to eat, whether we wanted to meet in his room or mine,
whether I wanted to plan Maths or English. I realised that the more I meditated, the more innate and easy moment-to-moment choices were. Meditation had created space in my mind for decisions to be made naturally, without attachment. Larger, more life changing decisions and choices have been made since, such as changing my career direction and moving to a home life which both better suit my needs.
Prior to my mindfulness and meditation journey, in order to feel safe I went to alarming lengths to be in control. I planned everything down to a tee, including what other people were doing around me. Little to my knowledge, it was doing more harm than good and the moment an unconscious plan seem to be playing out in a different direction, I would fear the outcomes. I also assumed I could control the way other people felt, especially family members, and found myself extremely anxious and reactive when I thought they seemed unhappy, or off track.
Meditation and mindfulness has opened my eyes to the capacity and understanding of my control. I now understand that the only person I can control and that I am truly responsible for, is myself. Consequently, I look after myself very well. It is needless to say, when I look after myself by meditating and practicing yoga, I am more attentive, reliable and connected to the people around me. I can clearly see the difference between realistic healthy goals and structured plans and therefore live much more in the present moment.
On topic of the present moment, I have to say that ‘living in the now’ has been one of the most evident, drastic changes. Six months into my mindfulness journey I was driving home from a weekend away with my partner when I noticed a full moon up in the sky. I couldn’t believe my eyes and asked Matt if there was some sort of one off, amazing moon experience currently happening, to his reply- that is called a full moon, it happens every month.
Following that experience, I slowly began to notice more and more things, including the monthly phases of the moon. On my walks, I notice my surroundings and feel the effects of the current experience on all my senses. It brought to my attention that for all my previous walks, drives, any moment of silence, I was primarily caught up in the loud, tangled web of my thoughts and stories and was not experiencing the physical surroundings around me.
All the reasons I meditate seem to strengthen as like a muscle the more I practice, and weaken when I do not.
I am so content, and so aware of my emotions in response to situations. In addition, when I am feeling anger, sadness or stress in relation to an experience I am aware of how to deal with it positively and develop mentally from it. I am extremely eager to spread the life-changing impact that living mindfully and practicing meditation can bring. Above all, I am enthusiastic about ensuring that children are supported and specifically taught positive strategies to cope with the stress, anxiety and difficult emotions faced in everyday life.
Charlotte is a gem! We love her new space.
Visit The Happinest in Williamsburg and see for yourself!