A happy heart makes the face cheerful (Proverbs 15:13).

Would you like to improve your looks? If so, I’ve got great news for you about a marvelous procedure that gives you a facelift without the pain and expense of surgery. The procedure doesn’t hurt at all. It doesn’t cost anything. And it will improve your looks more than Botox injections or plastic surgery. What is this amazing procedure? The technical term is smiling.

Think about it. What’s more attractive, a face lit up in a smile, or the sad expression of a bloodhound? Sorry, bloodhound lovers, the correct answer is, a smile. Why spend a fortune on plastic surgery when you can get a facelift without surgery? All you have to do smile. Try it some time. It might hurt a bit if you’re not used to it. But smile anyway. You might even like it.

Okay, okay, maybe it’s not that simple. If you’re like me, you can’t create a real smile when you’re grumpy. If you feel like scowling but you tell your face muscles to smile anyway, you end up with a ghastly grimace. You know what I mean: the grim grin you give when you’re getting your picture taken and the person next to you is standing on your toe. That’s not a real smile, is it? Smiling isn’t just a movement of your face muscles; it’s what your face does when your heart is glad.

As the Bible says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful” (Proverbs 15:13). Your heart controls your face. If your heart is gloomy, your face is grumpy. If your heart is happy, your face is cheerful.

A happy heart is an amazing thing. By giving you a smile and a facelift without surgery, a happy heart improves your looks—and that’s not all. It also improves your health. Happiness is just plain good for you, while grouchiness is harmful. The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). That biblical proverb is confirmed by medical research. If your spirit is in bad shape, it weakens you and damages your health. When you’re gloomy and stressed out, it drains your immune system. It causes ulcers and insomnia. It can even cause high blood pressure and heart attacks. Sometimes the best medicine doesn’t come in a pill or an injection but in a big dose of joy and laughter. “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” There really is such a thing as a healthy laugh.

Another good thing about a happy heart and a cheerful look is the impact on others. A genuine, joyful smile can actually do something for the people around you. To quote another biblical proverb, “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones” (Proverbs 15:30). Smiles and positive words can make other people happier and healthier.

When you’re in a restaurant enjoying a good meal, it tastes even better when the person serving you is pleasant and cheerful. A grouchy server can almost ruin your meal—unless the server is so grouchy it’s funny. Think of your school or the place where you work. If all you get are scowls and growls, your day seems pretty bleak. Isn’t your day a lot brighter when the people around you are cheerful and encouraging?

Now, if that’s the impact others have on you, don’t forget that you have the same impact on them. You can bring warm sunshine to others, or you can drench them with cold rain. The attitude of your heart and the expression on your face affects the people around you, whether you’re at work or in school or at the store or at home. A cheerful look from you can bring joy to others. A positive word of good news from you can make someone else a little healthier.

Those of us who are Christians, especially, need to realize the impact that our attitude can have on others. If you’re not a Christian, your impression of Jesus may come from watching those of us who claim to follow him. Are you going to become interested in Christ if all the Christians you know are grouches? Not likely. But if Jesus’ followers radiate joy and positive energy, you’ll be more eager to learn their secret. Cheerful faith is contagious faith. “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” A radiant smile and good news of Jesus brings cheer to others who still need his joy.

So, then, a smile is a mighty powerful thing. It improves your looks; it makes you healthier; and it helps those around you. But as I said earlier, a smile isn’t just something you do with your face muscles. A smile is what your face does when your heart is glad. So even if you agree that smiling is a good thing, you can’t just plaster a silly grin all over your face. You need something deep within you that makes your heart happy. It takes a happy heart to make your face cheerful.

Overflowing Joy

Nothing makes your heart happier than when God sets you free from slavery to sin and sorrow and sets you on the road to the promised land. Psalm 126 puts it well:

When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were full of laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Can you say that? Can you say, “The Lord has done great things for me, and I am filled with joy?”

When we talk about a cheerful smile coming from a happy heart, it takes more than just a few jokes or a sense of humor. Author Mark Twain was one of the funniest men who ever lived, but Twain was also one of the most bitter. Some comedians have been so unhappy that they killed themselves. Humor can be wonderful, but humor alone doesn’t create happiness. Your heart is truly happy when you know the joy of the Lord and the wonders of his love. As one biblical writer puts it, “‘Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:2-3).

Joy isn’t something you manufacture on your own. Joy comes as you “draw water from the wells of salvation.” So if you want true happiness inside you, go to the right well. Drink the right water. Jesus is the source and the fountain of joy; he’s the well of salvation. His Holy Spirit is the living water of love and joy. When you go to Jesus and drink of his Spirit, he changes sorrow to laughter, boredom to enthusiasm, guilt to forgiveness, anxiety to peace. So if you’re not already a Christian and you’re looking for joy, come to the Source of joy. Come to the well of salvation, Jesus Christ. He died and rose again to bring this joy to sinful people, to put happiness in our hearts and smiles on our faces. Put your faith in him and receive his Holy Spirit.

And once you belong to Jesus, take delight in the joy that flows from him. Let your life be a celebration. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4) Don’t let anything stop your God-given joy. Let it bubble freely and overflow and flood your life with holy happiness and healthy laughter.

Sometimes, even if you’re a Christian with full access to the well of salvation, you can be a lot grumpier than you should be. If you get careless, the springs of joy can get clogged up. Don’t let that happen. The Bible shows us the divine source of joy, and once we have that joy, the Bible also gives some down-to-earth guidelines for keeping the streams of joy flowing freely and not letting them get clogged up. Let’s look at four basic, biblical guidelines for a happy heart and a cheerful face.

Count Your Blessings

The first is simply this: Count your blessings, not your blahs. Have you ever listened to professional athletes who mumble and grumble about not getting paid enough, even though they get zillions of dollars just for playing games? Ridiculous, isn’t it? But it’s even more ridiculous for someone who’s been given eternal riches in Christ to constantly mumble and grumble and scowl and growl. A zillionaire athlete is a lot happier if he stops griping about what he doesn’t have and starts counting and enjoying the fortune he does have. So, too, you’ll be a lot a happier as a Christian if you stop your complaining and start counting your blessings.

In the words of the Bible, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5). If you’re a Christian but your heart is unhappy, aren’t you forgetting something? Forget not all his benefits. Count your blessings.

I’m not saying that if you’re Christian, you have to wear a plastic smile 24 hours a day. There are times of hardship and grief, and in situations like that, it’s okay to cry. The Bible says that there’s a time to weep. But the Bible also says, in the very same verse, that there’s a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4). So if it’s a time to weep, then go ahead and weep. But if it’s a time to laugh, then laugh! When you’ve got it good, enjoy it! Don’t look for something to complain about. And even when life is hard and you’re weeping—even then, “forget not all his benefits.” Focus on God’s love and how much he has done for you. If you do that, you can have joy in your heart even in the midst of grief. Count your blessings, not just your blahs.

Leave the Rat Race

Here’s a second guideline for maintaining a happy heart: Leave the rat race to the rats. You can get obsessed with success, you can work night and day to reach your goals, but what’s the use? The Bible says, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23). In other words, the grand prizes in the rat race are ulcers and insomnia. An old country-and-western song put it well: “Work your fingers to the bone—what do you get? Bony fingers.”

In the rat race, life is all work and no play. You work hard all day, and you keep working after you get home. You see fun time and family time as wasted time. If you ever do take an actual vacation, you treat it the same way you treat work. You ask all the same questions: “What did we plan for today? What time is it? How much does it cost?” Vacation isn’t a time to rest and be refreshed; it’s a time to accomplish as much you can! You’ve got to visit as many places as possible, do as many things as possible–don’t waste a minute!–and when you get home, you feel like you need a break just to recover from your vacation.

If you’re too busy to relax, too busy to laugh, too busy for family and friends, too busy to enjoy time with God in worship and prayer, you’re too busy. If you don’t want to clog up the fountain of joy, if you want to maintain a happy heart, then know when enough is enough. If you’re in the middle of the rat race, stop. Ask yourself whether it’s all that much fun being a rat. Trust God. Enjoy his gifts. And leave the rat race to the rats.

Let Off Steam

Here’s a third principle to help keep the joy flowing in your life: Let off steam; don’t blow your stack. The Bible says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29). When something goes wrong for you, it’s tempting to lose your temper and blow your stack, but sometimes it’s better just to look for the humor in the situation and have a good laugh to let off some steam.

A young mother had a softball game to play one evening. She had baked some cookies just before she had to leave, so she left them out on the table to cool. She grabbed her bat and glove, and left her husband in charge of their little boy. When she got home, she made a discovery: the boy had been in the cookies. And he hadn’t just eaten just one or two. No, the little rascal had taken exactly one bite out of every last cookie on the table. Where was her husband? Fast asleep in his easy chair.

Now, when you’re in a situation like that, you’ve got a choice: You can either blow your stack and start screaming, or you can just throw up your hands and laugh. Some things that make us furious at the time they happen end up becoming stories that we tell and laugh about for years afterward. The situations that make us the angriest are often the funniest—if only we have the perspective to see it? Sometimes the best way to cool a hot temper is to step back and have a good laugh.

Okay, okay—I know there are serious matters that we simply can’t laugh off. There are wrongs that really deserve righteous indignation. There are tragedies that really do shatter our lives. Not everything in life is a laughing matter. Still, much of life is a laughing matter, if only we’re willing to see the humor. Some things are indeed tragic, but many of our problems are more comedy than tragedy. If we learn to laugh at what’s laughable, we can save our anger and energy for the injustices and tragedies that really are serious.

Most of the time it just isn’t very smart to get angry. The Bible says, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). When you’re angry, you say and do stupid things that cause more harm than the actual thing that made you mad.

So don’t blow your stack at every little problem like it’s a tragedy; instead, see it as a comedy and enjoy a good laugh. If you run into a situation where you’re absolutely furious and you can’t find anything to laugh at, then go look in a mirror. The red face, the swollen veins, and the bulging eyes you see in that mirror ought to be good for a laugh. Let off steam; don’t blow your stack.

Focus on the Judge

A fourth important principle for maintaining a happy heart is this: Focus on the Judge, not on your judges. There’s no quicker way to spoil your joy and get gloomy than to focus on what other people think, to worry about criticism, to be obsessed with other people’s approval. Don’t let a bunch of self-appointed critics destroy your freedom and spoil your joy. Instead, focus on the only Judge who matters: Jesus himself.

That’s good advice for all of us, and especially for preachers. There’s a story about a minister who preached in a church and was greeting the people afterward. A man came up to the preacher and said, “Your interpretation of the Bible was just awful.” Then he walked away. The minister was taken aback, but he went on greeting other people. A few minutes later, the same man came up again and said, “There was nothing practical in your sermon. Just ivory tower stuff.” After a few more minutes, the man was back again: “Your voice is lousy, and your clothes don’t fit right.” Then he walked away. Someone nearby, seeing the preacher getting flustered, tried to comfort him. “Don’t worry about that guy,” he said. “He’s not very bright. He can’t think for himself. He just repeats what he hears other people saying.”

Ouch! If you base your joy on what other people say about you, life can get pretty grim. Focus on the Judge, not your judges. The apostle Paul said in the Bible, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). Paul’s joy didn’t depend on the judgment of others or even of his own conscience. He cared only what God thought.

Does this mean we should ignore constructive criticism or be insensitive to what other people think? Of course not. The Bible says, “A rebuke impresses a man of discernment” (Proverbs 17:10). If you’re wise and discerning, you won’t ignore all rebukes and criticisms. You’ll try to learn from your critics, especially from loving critics. But learning from others is very different from living to please others.

When you focus on pleasing God, you can learn from others without basing your happiness on what they think of you. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. God is your Judge. And if you’re a Christian, you know that your Judge already loves you and accepts you as his child. Simply enjoy his love and be glad for every opportunity to please and honor him. If other people think you don’t measure up to their standards, it’s their problem, not yours. If you want a happy heart and a cheerful face, take the Lord seriously, and take your critics (and yourself) less seriously. Focus on the Judge, not on your judges.

A Happy Heart

Now let’s put all of this together. Earlier I mentioned a facelift without surgery and invited you to smile. But we saw from the Bible that to have a healthy smile on your face, you need joy in your heart. In the words of Proverbs 15:13, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” If your spirit is crushed by the heartache of life without God, then before you can really smile, you need the God who can turn an aching heart into a happy heart.

We’ve looked at some practical guidelines for maintaining a happy heart, but remember: these are ways to keep the joy flowing once you’ve got it. First you need to get the joy. You need to come to Jesus, the well of salvation, and have the living water of his Spirit flowing within you. Without the Lord, you won’t have a genuinely happy heart, no matter how many laughs you might have. A sense of humor is no substitute for a Spirit-filled heart. Only Christ can provide the deep joy that flows from being in touch with the eternal God. The joy of the Lord begins with a spiritual relationship to Jesus Christ.

Having made that very clear, thought, let’s not forget that there’s more to maintaining a happy heart and a cheerful face than entering into this marvelous spiritual relationship. You also need to follow the practical, common sense teaching of the Bible to keep the joy flowing as freely as it should. If you’re careless about these down-to-earth guidelines for living cheerfully, much of your joy will be polluted and plugged up by the junk of everyday living. Despite the fact that you belong to the Lord, you’ll miss out on much happiness that could be yours.

So examine yourself for any tendency in your personality that creates more heartache than happiness. If you tend to look on the dark side, count your blessings, not your blahs. If you’re a workaholic worry wart, leave the rat race to the rats. If you’ve got a short temper, let off steam; don’t blow your stack. And if you’re too much of a people pleaser, focus on the Judge, not on your judges. Let your heart be happy in the Lord, and let your face reflect it. Then you can enjoy a facelift without surgery.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.