9 Things Happy People Do to Stress Less

9 Tricks Happy People Use to Stress Less

People’s lives become chaotic the minute they decide to be.

People’s lives become happier the minute they decide to be.

Be the latter.  For fast-acting stress relief, slow down and consider the following:

1.  Know what you’re trying to achieve and why.

Lack of direction creates stress.  And it’s lack of direction, not lack of time, that’s the problem when it comes to personal achievement.  Everyone has the same 24-hour days and 7-day weeks.

Whenever you want to achieve something keep your conscious clear.  Focus and make sure you know exactly what it is you want and why.  No one can hit their target if they don’t know what their target is.

2.  Do less by focusing exclusively on what’s important.

The essence of personal productivity is to do the important things rather than the urgent things.

In other words, put first things first.  Focus on the essential and eliminate the rest.  (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the Simplicity and Productivity chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

3.  Think progress, not perfection.

Don’t worry about perfection; you’ll never achieve it.  Instead, focus on the progress you’ve made and the progress you intend to make today.

Progression is not automatic or inevitable.  Every step of personal growth requires sacrifice and work.  Every step is part of an ever-improving, ever-ascending life path.  Every step is an accomplishment that should be celebrated.  You know you will never get to the absolute peak (perfection), but when you celebrate the journey this truth only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.

4.  Cleanse your heart every night.

Just as your body needs regular washing because it gets dirty every day, so does your heart.

Because every day, people hurt you, offend you, forget you, snub you, step on you, or reject you.  But if you choose to forgive these people and let these things go at the end of each day, you cleanse your heart.  You wake up the next morning refreshed and free of negativity.  Refuse to carry old regrets, mindsets, and distractions into each new day.  Read The Happiness Project.

5.  Purge untrue thoughts.

You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.

Behind every stressful feeling is an untrue thought.  Before the thought you weren’t suffering, but after the thought you began to suffer.  When you recognize that the thought isn’t true, once again there is no suffering.  When you change your thoughts, you change your life.

6.  Expect some stress, accept it, and let go of it.

The most important journeys that lead to the most wonderful places are usually the challenging ones you must endure the hard way.

Stress is but a wall between two peaceful gardens – the garden where you are and garden where you want to be.  You must scale the wall that’s in your way, gathering lessons as you climb, before letting go as you descend to the other side.  You will only lose if you never climb or you never let go.

7.  Be kind to your body.

A good workout is the best stress reducer, and a fit, healthy body is the best fashion statement.

The pursuit of optimal fitness is a journey, a constant struggle, a lifestyle.  It’s a gradual process where intensity during each exercise session, what you eat every single day, and patience over years is what’s required.

But as you know, the longest journey always begins with a single step.  It’s all about taking that step and then stepping one day at a time, committing yourself to a daily intake of 30 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted exercise and a reasonably healthy diet.  Read Eat to Live.

8.  Do one nice thing for yourself every day.

Put yourself at the top of your priority list.  There is no person on Earth who deserves your kindness and attention more than you.  When you love yourself first, everything else falls into place.

So treat yourself every day.  Give yourself something special – like laughter, good conversation, meditation, quiet reading, an hour to work on a passion, a long walk, etc.

You are worth it.

9.  Simplify.

Organize, don’t agonize.  Keep your space ordered and your schedule under-booked.  Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe…

So you have the flexibility to explore the possibilities for happiness in each and every day.

The floor is yours…

What would you add to the list?  What do you do to make yourself smile when life gets stressful?  Please leave a comment below.

Photo by: Loving Earth


  1. Lynne says

    One of the biggest things that helps me overcome and let go of stress is to simply decide that something else is more important than what I’m feeling.

    I often hear people say that to overcome insecurity (which has always caused me stress), you should just “stop caring.” I don’t prescribe to this, because not caring for others would basically make you a psychopath. Why should I treat someone with decency and respect if I don’t care what they think?

    Instead, I turn to something that’s more important than my stress. My love for my husband is more important to me than my insecurity over my body. Truly learning course material in school is more important than a letter grade. Thinking this way allows me to put things in perspective. :)

  2. Margaret Lavery says

    I have a disabled daughter who has had chronic health issues since birth. She is 16 years old, and although diagnosed palliative, she has some years left I believe.

    I read your posts daily and enjoy then so. I often find that some advice is difficult for me as I am constantly grieving.

    I wonder if sometimes it is impossible for me to be happy and I would like anything you or the community here could suggest that could be of help.

    Thank you.

  3. Tim says

    While my situation isn’t likely as challenging as yours, I do have a high functioning autistic (now adult) child. Two things that helped me; you can’t be your best for others without putting your own health first, this for me includes mental and physical. I also believe that these kids can tell when you feel negative thoughts and that it likely increases their stress, perhaps even causing them to feel down about being a “burden” Second, as hard as it is at times, acknowledge that you are successfully navigating one of the hardest challenges on earth. Instead of wishing you could do more, let yourself realize you are doing more than most would, this child’s time here on earth is better because you are in it. Don’t dwell on it, but imagine if she were living in an environment without someone as caring an sensitive. There are a great many children who would give anything to have a parent like you. In summary, take care of yourself so you can be the best you can be, second, find peace in knowing her life is infinitely better because you are in it. No, it isn’t the life we’d have chosen for them, but in reality, we are all only here for a short time, make the most of your time together, you both deserve it and it is far better than the alternative.

  4. says

    When Life gets stressful, especially after a long day, I lock myself away in my den and play guitar for an hour. It’s something I love to do, and it always lifts my spirits.

    @Margaret – I’m really sorry to hear about your situation. Honestly I would suggest something similar to you. Let go and get lost in an activity you are passionate about at least for an hour every day. It might help.

  5. Stephanie says

    “I wonder if sometimes it is impossible for me to be happy and I would like anything you or the community here could suggest that could be of help.”

    We almost lost our daughter in her first hour of life. She was born 7 weeks premature. The day after she was born, I was with her in the NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit. I said to her, “We’ll have fun, someday.” She was lying asleep at the time. Then I realized how terrible that sounded. I then said, “No, we’re having fun now!” I was so glad she was alive.

    Every moment counts. My baby, our baby, went blue in my arms one evening in the NICU, and I brought her back. Then I cried. I was drained. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, but it was how it was. Today she’s 14 and a half, and I still dread all of the visits to the pediatric physicians. I hate it.

    Margaret, cherish every moment with your baby. It’s all you’ve got, but what a gift, huh? Every moment counts. She’s yours for a reason, perhaps because you’re strong enough to get her as far as she can go.

    All the best to you, her, and your family.


  6. unknown says

    Seven years spent with an abusive partner, who was later on diagnosed as a Psychopath, left enduring scars on my soul. In those torturous seven years, my afflicted soul became a strange existence. I now fear facing myself honestly. I am not what I used to be… In terms of material possessions, I have everything that a person can long for; but internally those seven years laugh at me, haunt me.

    I’m still hoping for happiness…

  7. Kathryn says

    Margaret Lavery,

    I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I just saw a video that might help you. This boy died on May 20, 2013 – but he and his family had a remarkable time before he did.

  8. Dev says

    This post really laid out some excellent points for finding happiness in stressful times.

    My addition to the list: Listening to the comedy station on Pandora for 15 minutes when I need to unwind.

    And to reply to Margeret and unknown: Hang in there. Honestly, life can be really tough sometimes. I’ve hit some deep trenches in my life that I thought I would never recover from, but time and focus (on positive things) has helped me heal over the years.

  9. says

    What really helps me is to get what I need to do out of my head and onto something I can refer to. I personally use Evernote as a To-do List that also doubles as a calendar. That way you won’t have to worry about remembering everything and it seems much more manageable.

  10. Sharon says

    I always remember my mother saying to me during difficult times “this too, shall pass”. And it does from one day to the next everything can change. Change does require action, just take the steps. I am working very hard on my thought processes, your thoughts can destroy you. Daily meditation can help substantially but just being aware of the negative thoughts and letting them go can help tremendously. I feel for those who struggling here but don’t give up each day is a new beginning. Reach out to others and take it one step at a time.

  11. Andrea says

    I think that #9 is very important. If you pare everything down to its most simple, then you have more time to get the really important things done.

  12. says

    To releave stress and tension I sing and dance – I turn on Youtube and have fun…I do this every day. Both singing and dancing are known to have a positive effect on stress….

  13. JH says

    To the ‘unknown’ writer who posted at 2:16am,
    To have endured an abusive relationship and have survived it say’s an awful lot about the strong person that you truly are! Feeling lost and unsure of who you are after an abusive relationship is normal under the circumstances…

    You are a survivor and obviously a strong person to have gotten away from an abusive situation… It takes more strength to walk away and start over than it does to stay and continue to lose yourself…
    The ghosts are only there if you let them be…

    I survived my ex trying to kill me several times…
    The ghosts are also angels…
    In time everything does get better!
    :) Wishing you a beautiful day!!!

  14. Doris says

    Throughout my life it seems I always want people to be happy and therefore I do things to please. Lately, I have realised that am not making myself happy because mostly, it’s all about other people. How do I find the right balance? Any advice for me please?

  15. Ingrid says

    This is a great post! Margaret, please take some time for yourself, It is so important for you to breathe and find your center. I truly hope you have a good friend to talk to. One thing I know for sure is that everything is going to turn out just fine. You’ll see. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. I send you Love, Light and Joy.

  16. says

    I reflect that in the big scheme of things, this too shall pass. How many times have I thought the world was ending only to realize that it didn’t and I survived. I also think back to the ying/yang theory, as there will be unpleasant moments in our life, there will also be great moments in our life–and those unpleasant moments make the pleasant moments so much more precious.

  17. says

    Hey Angel,

    I would add spending as much time as possible with people that fill you up with positive energy, while avoiding the others. :)

    Very inspiring post, thanks!

  18. says

    Great list!

    When life becomes stressful, I tune into music. Listening to music lifts my spirit and melts my troubles.

    Another thing I do is graphic design. There’s something about opening Photoshop and InDesign and designing something, anything. I lose track of time and my thoughts stop. I also forget about whatever it is that was stressing me out. :)

  19. says

    I was also in an abusive relationship for 7 years and finally left. The years after were difficult; that relationship shadowed everything I did. One day, I realized that I didn’t want to live under that shadow anymore. So I prayed. And I forgave my abuser, who was damaged – far more than I was. The shadow over my life lifted gradually. It really is like that old adage of eating poison hoping the other person would die. I won’t say forgiving him was easy, but it finally worked.

  20. says

    Getting outdoors helps for me. Yesterday I was feeling a little anxious with all the changes that are happening in my life. It had been raining heavy all day but I really wanted to be outside. Around 2pm the clouds broke and there was a bit of sun. I prefer running in the morning and was starting to come up with excuses- it’s too late, my kids will be getting home from school, etc. But I was still feeling stressed. I went out for a run. The sky grew darker as I ran. By the time I hit a mile, thunder was rumbling in the distance and I felt so happy. I felt so blessed to have that small opening of sunshine. It wasn’t as long a run as I wanted but it was the run I needed.

  21. Ananpanha herr says

    Yes, life is a long journey to walk, and hundreds of problems need to be solved. Therefore, you really encouraged me. The ideas here really help me look at the positive side of things.

    Thank you.

  22. Brian says

    I struggle with stress too. What I do is write down exactly what is bothering me. I don’t type it, as am too likely to save it and have that negative energy hanging around. I may not always come up with a solution but I am a lot clearer about what my stress level should be. I do this continuously even if its the same issue over and over. Little by little I get a better handle on it. I used this method to bring a measure of peace after years of tearing myself up about a tragedy which I could not have prevented. It did not fix the problem, but helped me get the stress to acceptable levels and then some peace.

  23. David Rapp says

    Doris: It may think to help of balance as a way of thibking/acting/being rather than a destination or an end state. Everything is in motion and ever changing, therfore balance must as well.

    Margaret: One day years from now you will meet or hear of another mother in the same or similar situaion you face now. No one will know how she feels, how she hurts, how she thinks, how exists or how she copes. But you will. Because you “get it.” Perhaps there is a social or medical network out there for you to join and support, because I know ther are others out there for you, and who need you too. I chose this path with being bi-polar and having no testosterone, it truly helps: them and me.

  24. DW says

    David Rapp, you are correct.

    @Margaret, @unknown, @Tim, there are others in each of our circles, somewhere. It doesn’t lessen your personal and private exhausting load, but it does give it new meaning. You are connected to others through shared battles. This connection goes on its own track separating you from the physical work that goes into just staying afloat in unpredictable and often oppressive circumstances.

    I know, because I have my own history as a victim of captivity and abuse and I can both help and be consoled and strengthened by others who have been on this road or other lonely roads. It becomes a privilege, after you pull apart from your own story and become bigger than your story.

    What I do to stress less and get happy, is to go to an internal higher plane, take time to take a sacred space. In this space I look for the meaning in what I have been given, and what I am giving back with the tools that I have picked up or talents I was given.

    We are not survivors, we are triumph-ors. Maybe it’s not a good word for Daniel Webster, but it’s a good word for me, for us.

  25. says

    Distraction leads to stress. As your point #1 goes, if you don’t know what you’re going to achieve, you never will achieve it. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail.

    Cleansing one’s heart every night appealed me a lot. Its a very harsh world, but one has to let go, forgive, and forget if the goal is to lead a happy and stress free life.

    Thanks for the awesome tips.

  26. sona says

    Forgiving yourself and who you think has wronged you; really counting your blessings (write them down); priortizing ; meditate; walk/run; cry…. All these helped me overcome a stressful period of two young children followed by Mom’s suicide after years of her depression.

    It is a lifelong journey, somedays are good, some bad but I have always found kindness in the general population. You just have to look with the right mindset.

  27. Ann says

    When I am stressed I find something to challenge my inner being. Lately I decided to paint my house on the outside. It’s been difficult but it sure made me forget my troubles and I found that I am a great painter. It certainly made my family and friends look at me in a different light. I know I can work out any problem that I am faced with. It may take some time but it’s worth every minute. It may sound crazy to you but try it sometime. You may just find someone you never knew.

  28. says

    Focusing on what is important and simplifying have been helpful to me to feel less stress. I also find it useful to concentrate on what I am doing in the moment and not let my mind wander off to think about other things. This helps me to relax and the stress tends to melt away.

  29. unknown says

    I would like to thank everybody including Dev ,DW and especially JH. Their encouraging and kind words made me smile and whispered me a promising future. Thank you all!.

  30. Zel says

    I realize that the only thing we truly have is the present. The past was at one time a present and the future will become the present and how can I stress over something which either had come or will come?…

    So to be aware of the present is something that I try to do every day…..Also I always had these great aspirations and wondering if I now/then/ever really succeeded and by whose measure?.This brought me a lot of stress….Until I read this by Henry Fosdick. I try to read it often.

    Success-to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better; whether by a child; a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.

  31. merilyn says

    Have faith in God and keep praying. I have heard stories of healing and many more from those who have faith.

  32. yosra says

    I agree with your list. I would like to add this list: Embrace Setbacks.

    S+As Rumi once said, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished.” When I feel emotionally down, I mostly watch sitcoms or try to sleep it off.

  33. Enas says

    Agreed. Don’t let others control your mood and you will live in peace. Unhappy people tend to tease happy people using their negativity… just smile and ignore.

  34. says

    I certainly agree with ‘organize, don’t agonize!’
    Rather than getting frazzled by your task list, use the Pomodoro technique.
    Set a timer for 25 minutes, get to work on item 1 with complete focus. When the timer sounds, stop, take a break, or go do something else.
    Try three of these a day and watch your to-do list shrink.

  35. says

    Excellent post, Marc and Angel.

    The Bible talks about 4 keys to relieve stress and anxiety in Philippians 4:
    1. Decide you won’t be an anxiety sufferer.
    2. Pray with reverence, petition and thanksgiving.
    3. Meditate on the right things.
    4. Take action.

    I discuss these keys in detail in my latest book, The Bible Cure for Anxiety, which launches this week.

  36. says

    @All: Marc and I are on a holiday break this weekend, so this reply will be shorter than usual. I just wanted to let you know that we are truly inspired and moved that so many of you have taken the time and effort to reply and assist each other.

    @Margaret, unknown, and Doris: I can only echo the advice the others have already given. I honestly see the fact that you are inquiring and thinking openly about these struggles as a sign that you are already on a path to healing.

    The hardest part of healing (or simply solving a problem) is realizing that there is a problem. Since you have already established this, the next question is: What can you to today to take one small step in a positive direction?

    Sometimes it’s simply about letting go enough to make the very best of what’s in front of you, while leaving the rest to the powers above you. Sometimes it requires it’s speaking openly and talking it out with a therapist or close confidant. Etc. In most cases, the solution requires a change in mindset.

    Wishing you all our sincerest regards and best wishes this Sunday evening.

  37. Daniel says

    Thank you for #8. I tried to follow that advice – i.e. to take care of oneself first, but sometimes I feel guilty since I am so used to saying “Yes” to many things. Reading your list assures me I am doing the right thing.

  38. says

    I find that distinguishing between the urgent and the important is now more difficult than it used to be. Unfortunately I am starting to experience early stage dementia and that adds to the ‘confusion’ when trying to sort things out. One thing that does help is to take things more slowly and sharing time with my favorite 2 dogs. They just seem to know when the world is more confused than usual. The other is to only deal with one thing at a time – which I guess is in line with your advice to ‘focus’ even if it is in a modified way

  39. says

    Getting over of bad things quickly is a real stress buster in my opinion… doing something good at that moment can really do wonders.

  40. Enrique says

    I will add to the list one more thing: Loving more. I’ve always said that love is a gift from God. Love people for who they are…

  41. Claire Hutchinson says

    I walk outside with my dogs in a park so I can see old, majestic trees and big meadows full of birds and other wild life. I listen to my thoughts and I actively pray and in my prayers I try to remember to say Thank you.

    I ask for peace of mind and for my heart to be full of love. Every day if I remember to ask and be grateful, my prayers are always answered.

  42. says

    I sit down immediately and start listing on paper everything I have to be grateful for and keep going until magically I realize whatever had me stressed was really just insignificant and irrelevant in the full scheme of things. :)

  43. Kat says

    One thing that happens when we are living a life of difficulty is that we can become anxious all of the time, 24/7. We spend so much time worrying that we will become ill, fail, etc, that we become walking shells of our real selves.

    This practice has become my lifeline: Set aside. 20 minutes every day to sit and ‘worry’ about things. This could become creative time, as you could also write down solutions to specific problems (keep it simple).

    For the rest of the day, discipline your mind to not worry, just live and enjoy what is positive – be present.

    Best wishes to you all.

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