Several times the book of Proverbs touches on the matter of cheerfulness. This attitude is in stark contrast to the moods that dominate in people’s lives. Many of us live in quiet despair that indicates an absence of cheerfulness. Some brethren are cranky and think that soundness requires it. Others are consumed by an angry hostility and seem to be proud of it.
Proverbs teaches something about cheerfulness as well as how to become cheerful. The proverbs show cheerfulness beginning in the heart, and not with life’s circumstances. A cheerful heart can rise above all sorts of painful realities. On the other hand, no amount of laughter can provide permanent solace to a deeply troubled life. It is true that, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dried up the bones? (Prov. 17:22).
“A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed” (Prov. 15:13) What is in your heart will show on your face. Our prevailing attitude colors our entire personality. The face is sad because it reflects a broken heart. The Hebrew word for “spirit” reflects the overall makeup of a person. One’s visible attitude is determined by the condition of his or her heart.
From Proverbs 14:13 we learn that efforts to look cheerful are not the same as genuine joy, for “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” Things are not always as they appear. Even in laughter you cannot always know what is taking place in a person’s heart. A person can attempt to be joyful in spite of pain. This is not hypocrisy since some who are hurting sincerely try to encourage themselves when they are suffering. This proverb also shows that experiencing joy is no guarantee that troubles will not come our way.
“All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). This proverb shows that the depressed and gloomy may live in a world of darkness and evil, while “the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” The parallelism shows that the “afflicted” is one who is afflicted in his or her spirit, because the proverb is promoting a healthy state of mind. The image of “a continual feast” signifies the enjoyment of what life offers. Happy people enjoy life!
Some of us have more than our share of life’s problems (issues of health, etc.), but we know that others have it far worse than us. We notice the cheerfulness and good humor of an invalid or someone with more serious health problems than ours. Jim Howell was a classic example. Regardless of his severe handicap he kept a positive outlook on life. Jim had “a continual feast” even while suffering!
The Process of Becoming Cheerful
1. Cheerfulness is a by-product of what you value most: “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Prov. 21:15). One who is faithful to God’s will cares about equity and fairness. It is a pleasure to see justice administered by the government under which we live and to practice it in our own lives. Those who abandon God’s will don’t find justice so sweet (Rom. 13:1-4).
2. Cheerfulness comes from the things that help a person: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25). Anxiety suggests hitting rock bottom in terms of one’s emotional despair. We often need someone to just say something encouraging to us! Words have power to make a sad heart glad. They may not remove the source of the problem, but can provide strength and hope to face it.
3. Fulfilled hope brings cheerfulness in life: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12). Failure in realizing one’s hopes can be depressing and discouraging. This is a psychological truth – life is filled with hopes and dreams. When long expectations are repeatedly cheated of fulfillment there is a loss of morale and general feeling that your hopes will never be realized.
4. Cheerfulness comes through friends who enrich our lives: “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9). We all face important decisions. Where would we be without the help of good friends? For most of us our closest friends are fellow saints. We often ask ourselves how we could ever face life’s problems without our brethren in Christ!
5. Family members should produce joy in life: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18). The “fountain,” in this context, has to do with sexual pleasure to be enjoyed in marriage. See the verses which precede and follow vs. 18. The chapter opens with wisdom directed toward the “son” (Vs. 1). In vs. 18 he is admonished to find cheerfulness in the wife he chose when young.
6. Children can make parents cheerful: “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice” (Prov. 23:24-25).
The wise person develops cheerfulness by good choices and by finding value in doing what is right.
Cheerfulness is enriched by a joyful heart, good words, fulfilled hopes and dreams. It is further developed by friends and family. Cheerfulness is not a passive response to positive circumstances. Rather it is the consequence of choices that focus on eternal values, encouragements and commitments that honor God.