Have you ever considered the white space on this page? Because of the white space, or “margin,” we’re able to read the black words on the page. We don’t often think about the margin, but if it’s missing, and all the words jumble together on the page, we’d immediately notice its absence.

Several years ago I read the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. I learned margin is important in more than just newspapers, school reports, and published books. Our lives need margin to find the balance we all long for. Whether we realize it or not, our bodies, our relationships, and even our finances need white space to function at their best.

What does margin look like in real life? Dr. Swenson identifies these four areas:

  • Margin in our time: Do you cram too many activities into your day? If so, it’s a recipe for stress. The pace of our lives greatly affects our physical and mental health. Slow down, leave earlier, and say no more often to increase margin in your time.
  • Margin in our finances: Is there more month than money? Up to your eyeballs in debt? Living paycheck to paycheck? If your answer is yes to any of the above, it’s probably time to increase your financial margin. Save for the future, expect the unexpected car repairs by putting money away to pay for them when they happen, and resist the urge to spend every penny you have.
  • Margin in emotional energy: Relationships take energy. If we are emotionally depleted, we risk not having the energy to successfully navigate a disagreement in our marriage or a difficult parenting issue. When emotional margin is present we increase compassion and empathy and decrease apathy. Rest, laugh, and focus on “being” and not “doing” to increase emotional margin.
  • Margin in physical energy: How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating healthy foods? Exercising regularly? Our body needs rest, good nutrition, and regular exercise to function at its best. Go to bed just a little earlier, reduce your sugar intake, and choose the steps over the elevator in an effort to increase physical margin.

The by-product of a marginless life is stress. A life with margin discovers the beauty of contentment, simplicity, balance, and rest. That was enough motivation for me to make some lifestyle changes that have deepened my relationships, improved my health, and decreased my stress.

How about you? How have you increased margin in your life? Or where do you need to increase margin?

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