Family life and interpersonal relations are the focus of Proverbs 17—19. According to Proverbs 17:22, a joyful, positive mindset is key to experiencing healthy relationships and a fulfilling life: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones” (NKJV).
In the original Hebrew, the word for “merry” means “joyful, happy, full of cheer.” The “heart” is a person’s inner self, thoughts, emotions, and will. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” says Proverbs 17:22 in the English Standard Version. “Medicine” is something that treats or alleviates the symptoms of disease. One commentary suggests, “A cheerful heart causes good healing” as an appropriate literal translation. The NET Bible reads, “A cheerful heart brings good healing.” The Revised English Bible says, “A glad heart makes for good health.”
Scripture repeatedly testifies to the potent effects of the mind on the body: “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones,” states Proverbs 14:30 (NLT). “A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit,” declares Proverbs 15:13 (NLT).
“A merry heart does good” because it generates health and healing within one’s inner being. By contrast, “a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17:22, NLT). Proverbs 12:25 explains that “anxiety in the heart of man causes depression” (NKJV). These wisdom sayings agree with scientific studies from the American College of Cardiology, Harvard Medicine, and John Hopkins that demonstrate the mind’s powerful influence over the body. A cheerful, contented temperament not only fortifies our mental health but enables us to resist the attacks of physical disease.
Since the heart is the center of our inner life, its condition and tone reach the outermost parts of our existence, including our bodies and even our relationships with others. Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18, ESV). If our hearts are elevated, our bodies will be lifted up, our words will be uplifting, and our relationships will be enriched. If our hearts are crushed and broken, the condition of our bodies will break down, and we’ll have no strength to encourage others.
So, if a good medicine is a merry heart, how can we foster and promote internal joy? Scripture says that God’s laws, precepts, and statues refresh the soul and gladden the heart (Psalm 19:7–8; 119:111). Spending time in God’s Word, meditating on His promises, is a guaranteed way to do your heart some good. The prophet Jeremiah testified, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16).
Considering God’s works and His ways will also make our hearts glad. The psalmist sang, “For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done” (Psalm 92:4). When Barnabas saw the grace of God, his heart was filled with joy (Acts 11:23). When we take time each day to consider all that God has done for us and in the lives of all His people, we can’t help but “be glad now and rejoice,” like the prophet Joel, “for the LORD has done great things” (Joel 2:21, NLT). Countless Scripture passages give us cause to be joyful in God, who is the source of our joy (Psalm 43:4; Isaiah 61:10; Psalm 63:5; Luke 1:47).
The prophet Isaiah said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). We can “rejoice and be glad” in the Lord’s salvation (Isaiah 25:9). Jesus told the disciples to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Perhaps the most excellent way to cultivate a merry heart that does good, like medicine, is to spend time in God’s presence. Both King David in the Old Testament and the apostle Peter in the New Testament found their greatest joy in the presence of the Lord (Acts 2:28; Psalm 16:9–11). In God’s company, we experience the fullness of joy.