Creating Margin in Life for What You Want
by Rob Fischer
The pursuit of health and happiness is woven into the fabric of the American psyche. Our Declaration of Independence lists life and the pursuit of happiness as “unalienable rights.” What we tend to forget, however, is that “liberty” is also listed among those rights. What that means is that we are free to pursue these rights, but they are neither owed us, nor handed to us. We must pursue them.
As a Time Magazine article recently pointed out, “Americans are free to pursue happiness [and health], but there’s no guarantee we’ll achieve it.” The amount of stress most Americans find themselves slaves to is solid evidence that we are not achieving a quality of life (health) or happiness that we desire.
The American Institute of Stress reports that “75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.” They conclude that stress is America’s number one health problem. Naturally, stress squelches our happiness too.
Unfortunately, many of us have slipped into an entitlement mentality believing that values like health and happiness are owed us. Therefore, when deprived of these, we feel victimized and look for someone else to blame.
In his best-selling book, Margin, Dr. Richard A. Swenson, MD writes, “The conditions of modern-day living devour margin.” As a result, we are like the strings on a piano that have been strung too tight, ready to snap.
We need margin in our lives in order to be free to pursue health and happiness. The key to achieving margin is to take personal responsibility. No one else can give you margin. Only you can create margin in your life. So, when it comes to pursuing health and happiness, the buck stops with you and me. Are you up for the challenge?
Tips for Pursuing Health and Happiness
1. Check your definition of “happiness.”
How do you define “happiness?” If happiness means owning a new $25,000 Harley Davidson motorcycle, what happens 18 months into your $500-per-month payments when you lose your job? Suddenly, what was intended to bring you happiness becomes a millstone around your neck!
Or if you define happiness as going on a lavish cruise, what happens when a dental emergency occurs diverting the cruise funds to your teeth? Can you still be happy because you had funds set aside to cover your dental work?
Be careful how you define happiness. Don’t set yourself up for stress, anxiety, or depression by setting unrealistic goals, or giving temporal things too much attention. Most people find deeper, richer happiness in things that are not temporal like relationships.
It’s also important to understand that for many people, a sense of meaning and happiness in life overlap. Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself, and bigger than those around you. And to find them you must get off your couch and act, and take the time to think beyond yourself and to think greater than yourself.
2. Invest in your relationships.
Relationships gone awry cause stress like nothing else in our lives. The stress of a divorce or other broken relationship can be all-consuming affecting your health, finances, emotions, productivity, and happiness profoundly.
We tend to take relationships for granted. Instead, consider how you can make positive investments in your relationships daily. Enjoy others and be kind, caring and loving. Forgive and don’t hold grudges.
Also, take inventory of your relationship with God. Where do you stand with Him? Peace with God leads to peace with others. Actively pursue a growing relationship with Him. That’s what He desires from you.
3. Spend time daily in prayer and meditation.
We go through life so rapidly at times that we don’t have time to come up for air. Slow down for 20 minutes (or you set the time frame) every morning or evening to reflect on your day and your relationships.
Praying (conversing with God) and meditating (reflecting) can help you weed out the unimportant and trivial and focus on what matters. You may also be amazed at the effectiveness of prayer and meditation to problem-solve.
4. Do nothing in excess.
Interestingly, conditions like gout were once only diseases of the rich. As one of the richest nations in the world, we lavish excess on ourselves. Especially the younger generations have no connection or experience with the Great Depression or going without the essentials of life.
As a result, we drink too much alcohol, we eat too much—and too much of the wrong things, we lounge around too much, we spend too much…you get the picture! We’ve established a culture of excessive bad habits. Bad habits own you. You don’t own them.
5. Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night.
Many foolishly view sleep as a necessary evil, or something only for the weak. If you find yourself boasting to others that you can get by on four or five hours of sleep at night, you’re both fooling yourself and killing yourself.
Most Americans live sleep-deprived lives. This seriously jeopardizes our physical and emotional well-being, elevates our stress levels, reduces productivity, hinders creativity, and even harms our relationships.
The National Sleep Foundation impresses on us the need for around eight hours of sleep each night. Also, it’s important to try to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day to establish your circadian rhythm.
6. Practice only wholesome thoughts and reject negativity.
Our thoughts and words are very powerful tools. They either destroy or build up. Again, we must master them, or they will master us.
Take inventory of your thoughts and words for a day. What do you think about? How much time do you spend rehearsing an altercation before it even happens? How much time do you devote to replaying old tapes from an unpleasant exchange with another person? Scrub your mind of those thoughts and think about positive, wholesome things.
What is coming out of your mouth? Get rid of complaining, gossip, anger, foul or sordid language. Instead, speak kindly to others. Be courteous and gracious with your words. Express gratitude and positivity whenever possible.
7. Perform random acts of kindness.
The unhappiest people in the world tend to be those who think “it’s all about them.” Generally, the more we can take the focus off ourselves and tend to others’ needs, the happier we’ll be.
Make it a game to look for ways to bless others each day. Especially do this in your family and with those you are closest to. We tend to take them for granted and often treat them more poorly than we would ever think of treating a stranger.
A random act of kindness could be something as simple as washing the dishes without being asked. Buy someone’s coffee. Defer to someone else in traffic. Hold the door open for others, etc.
8. Develop healthy eating habits.
Eat primarily whole foods, avoiding prepackaged, processed and foods. Choose smaller helpings at mealtimes. Don’t skip breakfast, lunch or dinner. Plan ahead so you’re not eating junk food on the run two hours later than you’d normally eat.
Never let yourself get famished—or too full. When you’re super-hungry, you choose the wrong foods and eat too much. Stop when you’re comfortably full. You should never have to unbutton your pants!
Here is Barton Publishing’s lean, healthy food platter to follow that combines raw and cooked food:
- Eat 35-50% protein and healthy fats.
- Eat 35-40% veggies. Go ahead and pile on the green stuff. For example, eat a salad BEFORE you have a slice of pizza.
- Whole grains should only be 5-15% of your total intake.
- Fruits should only be between 5-10% of your diet.
- Organic dairy products can be consumed up to 10% of your total intake.
9. Drink plenty of water.
No other beverage can substitute water. Drinking 8 cups of coffee does not equate to 8 glasses of water. Your body needs (craves) water to function properly. According to Medical Daily, as many as 75% of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration.
Water is necessary for nearly all bodily functions. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Rapid heartrate
- Elevated body temperature
- Muscle cramps
- Skin problems
- And fuzzy-headedness.
10. Stay physically active.
Your body was designed to move! Regular physical activity is a great equalizer from a health and happiness standpoint. Exercising four to five days a week for at least 30 minutes helps us build other healthy habits in our lives like: eating properly, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking enough water, sleeping well at night, positive outlook, and so on.
Physical fitness has a profound impact on our life and therefore our happiness.
What are you doing to pursue your health and happiness? As a result of reading this article, what one thing will you do differently today?
If you liked this article, then you’ll love these:
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Rob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes writing curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, training courses, workshops, and books. Rob has written for numerous churches, for Burlington Northern Railroad, Kaiser Aluminum, and Barton Publishing. He has also trained managers in effective business writing. Rob holds two Master’s degrees, both focused heavily on writing. Rob has published eleven books and serves as an editor and ghostwriter for other authors.