Study Guide

Proverbs Happiness

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Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy. (NRSV 3:13-18)

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her. (KJV 3:13-18)

Basically, wisdom leads to happiness. There's not too much to elaborate on here—though the "tree of life" metaphor hearkens back to the Tree of Life in Genesis. Wisdom leads to immortality, as well, evidently.

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and he examines all their paths. (NRSV 5:18-21)

Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings. (KJV 5:18-21)

Happiness isn't in pursuing novelty—it's in sticking to commitments and being able to focus on one thing.

Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death. (NRSV 8:34-36)

Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death. (KJV 8:34-36)

If you hate wisdom, you "love death," because your life isn't grounded in any sort of big, governing commitments—it's founded on shifting sands.

Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up. (NRSV 12:25)

Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad. (KJV 12:25)

This is a simple observation—a good word can pick you out of the pit into which anxiety forced you.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (NRSV 13:12)

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. (KJV 13:12)

If you have an unfulfilled desire it will sicken your life, feeding on you like a parasite (bad times)—but if you fulfill it (within the realm of morality) it'll be a good thing, a life-giving thing. Good times.

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. (NRSV 14:10)

The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy. (KJV 14:10)

We're locked within our own feelings, "in a glass cage of emotion!" (to quote Anchorman). They're essentially private to ourselves.

Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife. (NRSV 17:1)

Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife. (KJV 17:1)

It's better to have a peaceful life without having too much stuff, than to have the reverse—too much stuff, and no peace.

A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of those who give it; wherever they turn they prosper. (NRSV 17:8)

A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth. (KJV 17:8)

This is a surprisingly pro-bribe quote. Bribes work! Or, you could go with the King James Version and call them "gifts."

A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (NRSV 17:22)

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (KJV 17:22)

Cheerfulness has certain healing qualities, but being downcast… well, doesn't.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. (NRSV 20:1)

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. (KJV 20:1)

Drinking too much can make you act quite foolishly, indeed.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven. (NRSV 23:4-5)

Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (KJV 23:4-5)

Proverbs advises: don't waste your life concentrating only on accumulating wealth. If you happen to get rich, fine—but these material things are so ephemeral it's hard to guarantee happiness from them. Just focus on living your life.

Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood, sorrow gnaws at the human heart. (NRSV 25:20)

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. (KJV 25:20)

Sad songs may say so much. Still, songs don't bring relief to a sad heart. Actually, we're not sure if the authors mean sad songs specifically, or maybe all songs. Maybe they mean that happy songs will also tend to deepen your depression because, by contrast, they make you more conscious of how sad you actually are. True sorrow is persistent and extremely hard to escape. Even if you listen to Elton John.

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