How to Stay Happy When Life Is Stressful

laughing happy woman

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Many people find themselves feeling irritable, overwhelmed, and just not at their best when they feel overloaded by demands in their lives. And while some of the things that make me happy might not all be things that make you happy, there are certain things that tend to create a greater experience of happiness in virtually everyone's life. These things are being identified and studied in the branch of psychology known as positive psychology, so we can know what specific changes can make most people happy.

Tips for Increasing Your Happiness Even When Life Is Stressful

While you may not be able to control all of the factors that are causing stress in your life, there are a few things you can do to take the edge off of your stressors, so you feel less overwhelmed, and you can more easily shake off a bad day. Likewise, there are a few ways to increase happiness levels, even when life is stressful. 

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Cultivate Optimism

While there are several things in life you can change to relieve stress, there will also things you have to deal with—job stressors, busy schedules (especially if you have kids), and other stressors that arise. However, because it's perceived stress that triggers the stress response, if you can shift your outlook, those things you can’t control may feel less stressful for you. So how do you shift your outlook? 

Stay Connected

As most of us instinctively know, healthy relationships are one of the best harbingers of happiness we have. Positive, supportive, and mutually respectful relationships can make our “wins” easier to celebrate and can buffer us against stress when we face our inevitable challenges. The trick is to give back all the support you get from your friends and to weed out the toxic relationships.

To keep your relationships strong, it’s important not only to make time for your friends, maintain a sense of humor, and remember to have a lot of fun but also be sure you have healthy communication and conflict resolution skills.

Take Shortcuts to Happiness

With a busy lifestyle, and with stressors that can seem to come out of nowhere, it's important to have quick routes to happiness, so you can create or restore positive feelings as quickly as possible. Knowing what can make you happy, and practicing a few "happiness shortcuts" each day, is a quick and easy way to raise your spirits in general, and make happiness a habit.

Cut Down on Energy Drains

Certain parts of your life can drain your energy. Life coaches refer to these as tolerations, and they can be anything from a person who brings negative energy or high demands, a messy desk that makes you slightly more tired when you look at it, to a part of your day that you wish you could just avoid.

Much of the time, we get so used to these drains that we don’t notice how many of them we have in our lives, and we don’t try to eliminate them. Other times, we start feeling overwhelmed by them—like we’re being “pecked to death by ducks.” Either way, by becoming more aware of them and cutting down on drains when you can, you may be able to free up enough time and energy to engage in more “make me happy” activities. 

Make Room for What’s Important to You

Commonly, there are so many things in your schedule that you feel you have to do (and that cause you stress), that you don’t have as much time for activities that you enjoy and are meaningful to you.

You need to cut out some of those “make me stressed” activities to make room for the “make me happy” ones. This can be challenging, but definitely not impossible, and well worth the effort it takes to make the necessary changes. You can learn how to create a schedule filled with activities that can make you happy.

Get Help If You Need It

There are people who can help—you may just need to ask for it. Can you delegate some of your responsibilities? Can you accept ask for additional support from friends? At times, this can make a big difference in how you feel. And sometimes stress can be overwhelming in a way that becomes difficult to handle alone. If you think you may need more help than these tips can provide, I urge you to speak to your doctor or another professional who can help.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.