The idea of exercise as punishment is old news. Alice Atherton and Gemma Jelicich, who lead out the Les Mills brand team, explain why Choose Happy captures the fitness zeitgeist and how the concept was inspired by Instructors.

Sarah Shortt (SS): Let's start right at the beginning. Les Mills has had many marketing campaigns over the past few years — 'Unstoppable', 'United', and 'Limitless' to name a few. How is 'Choose Happy' different, and why does it matter?

Gemma Jelicich (GJ): That's a great question, and I suppose one of the biggest differences with Choose Happy is that it's not "just a campaign", but rather a central organizing principle that really sums up what Les Mills is all about. Whereas in the past, perhaps these campaigns were more about soundbites and using a particular word in our Masterclass videos and trailers, Choose Happy is much bigger than that.

We feel it's the essence of Les Mills – it feeds into our mission to create a fitter planet by helping as many people as possible to fall in love with fitness. To do that, we need to spread the word about Les Mills workouts. The initial reason for having a campaign or organizing idea is to grow our brand awareness, which in turn leads to more people experiencing the joy of movement.

SS: What led to the concept of ‘Choose Happy’?

Alice Atherton (AA): We worked with a creative agency called nice&frank, who spent a lot of time trying to understand what lies at the heart of Les Mills.

The team talked to many people across the business, as well as having great conversations with Jackie and Phillip [Mills]. They were slowly getting to the heart of what makes Les Mills special, but the question was: how do you bottle that in a way that makes people care?

One of their aha moments was a conversation with Jackie where she described what it’s like to be in class when an Instructor is leading people through something quite challenging. She talked about the magical combination of the sound of the Instructor’s voice with the choreography and that amazing moment when the beat just drops and everything comes together — helping people achieve more than they would do on their own. The blend of these ingredients creates this sense of pure joy, and we couldn’t get away from that. And that we do what we do at Les Mills because of the impact it has on people.

Watch Choose Happy with Brett Goldstein

SS: The video contrasts the idea of "no pain, no gain" against the message to "choose a workout you'll actually enjoy". Why is this important?

GJ: In the fitness industry, we've seen a shift in the perception of feelings around working out. Back in the day, there was a greater emphasis on exercising to look a certain way, for the aesthetics, and a sense that it had to feel like some kind of punishment. Whereas now, more people see fitness as recreational — something they do because they actually enjoy it. The recent Les Mills report into the motivations of Gen Z revealed that four of their top five reasons to exercise are linked to health and happiness, with this demographic demonstrating a strong appreciation for the holistic benefits of activity.

Internally, we talk about being in the age of fitness 3.0 — what we see as the next evolution of the industry. I think that, particularly since the pandemic, people have realized the benefits they get from exercise far outweigh the number on the scales or being able to fit a particular dress size. There's greater awareness of the positive impact movement can have on our mental health — how it can reduce stress, enhance sleep and have a more positive outlook on life, as well as keeping us in optimal physical health.

AA: One of my favorite lines from the campaign is “The best workout is the one you actually do.” As Instructors know, our job at Les Mills is to shift the dial from people working out because they feel they have to, to working out because they want to. This comes down to intrinsic motivation — where we do something because the activity is inherently satisfying in and of itself, and not to achieve an external goal. That's where the sense of enjoyment comes in.

So it was taking these two concepts – the power of being led by an Instructor through a workout, combined with the joy we experience – that brought us to the notion that we’re really here to make fitness more joyful. And when you add in the music, the movements, plus all of the research and craft that goes into creating Les Mills workouts, you’ve got a pretty awesome end result. And it all came down to this feeling of happiness.

SS: Alice, you've said Choose Happy was inspired by Les Mills Instructors. How so?

AA: Instructors are the real heart and soul of the movement. They’re the ones out there creating connection with people, having a really positive impact on the people in their classes, inspiring them to fall in love with fitness. We want everyone to Choose Happy, but Instructors have been doing this for decades. What we love about where the concept landed is that it’s absolutely true to who they are.

I love the juxtaposition you get when the workout is challenging, but there’s something about it that makes you want to keep going, and the Instructor’s role in keeping people in that moment – through their voice, words and energy – is so critical. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what keeps people coming back.

SS: How does Choose Happy show up in everyday life for Instructors?

GJ: I see it as an anchor point for the experience we want to build. It’s not a script, it’s not about saying “Choose Happy” in your class – it’s more about using whatever words best suit you to create the mood and the joy and emotional experience for your class. In Instructor Training we talk about ‘Showing Enjoyment’, and I feel this very much feeds into that. Perhaps with campaigns in the past, such as United or Unstoppable, it was more about landing a message, whereas this is about giving people the freedom to create that joy in the room – whatever that feels like for them.

AA: That’s exactly right. It’s not necessarily about doing anything different, because we know Instructors already embody the essence of Choose Happy. They already live in that space; they already foster that environment. It’s just about being authentic to that.

One of the big challenges we had initially with the idea was ‘how can we ensure that this doesn’t come off as cheesy?’ It’s important to demonstrate that we’re a credible fitness brand. And that means when you do a Les Mills workout, you’re going to work hard. You’re going to sweat. It’s going to get tough – it’s not all just sunshine and rainbows. So there’s a tension and that’s why I think Choose Happy captures this quite nicely – because half the reason you get those endorphins and feel great afterwards is because you’ve pushed yourself through something with the guidance of an Instructor who knows what they’re doing.

It’s not about being ‘up’ all the time. It’s about choosing to do something that may feel challenging and you’re probably going to want to stop halfway through, but what if you do just keep going? That’s what Choose Happy is about.