Why Wisdom Is The Principal Thing In Life

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Wisdom has long been considered one of the highest virtues, often transcending cultures, religions, and philosophies. Rooted in human experience and understanding, proverbs can be seen as universal expressions of wisdom, offering timeless truths and guidance. For example, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom” is a proverb that generally calls us to value and pursue wisdom in all aspects of life (Proverbs 4:7a, KJV). This article provides a guide to proverbial wisdom, including its significance and how it applies to mental health within our daily lives. Online and in-person therapists may incorporate proverbial wisdom to help you address and heal from mental health challenges.

Learn how proverbial wisdom and mental health relate

What are proverbs?

Proverbs can be defined as concise and often metaphorical statements that encapsulate universal truths, moral lessons, or general pieces of advice. They may distill wisdom into a few words, providing insights based on common human experience and observation. Proverbs frequently use vivid imagery, analogies, or metaphors to convey their messages, making them both memorable and impactful.

The essence of proverbial wisdom may lie in its ability to translate complex and abstract ideas into simple, relatable terms. Unlike theoretical wisdom, proverbs tend to be grounded in everyday reality. They may represent a keen understanding of human nature, relationships, ethics, and the world at large. Proverbs commonly center around the following topics:

Human nature and relationships

Proverbs often highlight essential aspects of human behavior, relationships, and emotions. They can provide guidance on how to interact with others, emphasizing values like respect, kindness, and honesty.

Ethical guidance

Many proverbs focus on moral principles, guiding us in what is considered right or wrong. They can teach values such as integrity, humility, and compassion.

Practical wisdom

Proverbs are not necessarily just philosophical thoughts; they can be seen as practical wisdom that may be applied to daily life. They may offer advice on handling common life situations, decision-making, and problem-solving.

The timelessness of proverbs may add to their appeal. Even though many were coined centuries ago, they typically remain relevant and applicable. This endurance can speak to the fundamental nature of the truths they convey, which generally remains unchanged despite the evolution of societies and cultures.

Cultural significance of proverbs

Proverbs can be found in virtually every culture around the world. While the wording may vary, the wisdom they impart often overlaps, pointing to universal human experiences and values. This universality can connect people across geographical, cultural, and temporal divides, emphasizing our common humanity.

Here’s a closer look at why proverbs can be so culturally significant.

They provide a bridge between generations

Proverbs may serve as a link between different generations, preserving and passing down wisdom and insights. They are often relayed by elders to impart values and lessons to younger individuals of the community. This generational transmission can maintain continuity in cultural practices and principles.

They reflect cultural identity

Proverbs are usually reflective of a culture’s unique identity, often capturing its philosophies, way of life, and common experiences. They may provide insights into what is valued within a culture, its common beliefs, and its common wisdom. For example, proverbs may emphasize communal living in one culture and individual achievement in another.

They provide educational tools

In many cultures, proverbs are used as educational tools to teach children and adults alike about moral values, ethics, and social behavior. They may be employed in both formal education and informal mentoring to instill values and wisdom in an engaging and memorable way.

They facilitate communication and expression

Proverbs can also be powerful tools for communication and expression. They can succinctly convey complex ideas or emotions, enriching language and conversation. People often use proverbs to reinforce an argument, provide comfort, or relay wisdom in a way that resonates with others.

They reflect social norms and changes

Proverbs often mirror the social norms and values of a given time and place. They can be seen as a snapshot of a society’s expectations and behaviors. As societies evolve, so may the interpretation or relevance of certain proverbs, potentially offering a window into social changes and progress.

They show us universal connections

While each culture may have its unique set of proverbs, there are often striking similarities across different cultures. These similarities can point to a common human experience, connecting people across cultural and geographical boundaries.

Developing wisdom through proverbs

Many proverbs address themes like patience, humility, integrity, and resilience. For example:

  • “A stitch in time saves nine” can emphasize the importance of timely action.
  • “The pen is mightier than the sword” may underscore the power of words and ideas over physical force.

Wisdom may not just be an accumulation of knowledge, but a profound understanding of life, people, and the world around us. It’s a pursuit that usually requires continuous reflection, learning, empathy, and insight.

Reflecting on proverbs can be a practical way to push forward personal development. Proverbial wisdom can help you gain guidance in decision-making, conflict resolution, and personal growth.

Some ways in which proverbial wisdom can lead to personal development may include the following:

Self-reflection and insight

Wisdom often begins with self-awareness. By reflecting on our thoughts, actions, and motivations, we can gain deeper insights into ourselves and our place in the world. Proverbs frequently act as mirrors, enabling us to see ourselves more clearly and learn from our experiences.

Critical thinking

Wisdom can also involve critical thinking and the ability to analyze situations, beliefs, and information objectively. Proverbs often pose questions or paradoxes that provoke thought, encouraging us to evaluate situations from multiple perspectives and make informed decisions.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage our emotions and those of others, can be central to wisdom. Many proverbs address themes of empathy, compassion, patience, and emotional control, guiding us in cultivating these essential qualities.

Proverbial wisdom and mental health

Wisdom has been shown through research to be linked to improved mental health throughout the lifespan. Proverbs, with their inherent wisdom and universal appeal, may have a unique place in the field of mental health. Their concise and profound nature may allow them to resonate deeply with individuals, often providing comfort, guidance, and insight into complex emotional experiences. 

Proverbs often contain truths that offer solace during difficult times. Whether grappling with loss, anxiety, or uncertainty, the timeless wisdom in proverbs can provide a sense of connection and understanding, potentially alleviating feelings of isolation or confusion.

Therapists might choose to use proverbial wisdom as a tool in therapy for many reasons. Several benefits individuals might experience through proverbial wisdom include the following:

Engagement and reflection

Therapists may use proverbs to engage clients in reflective thinking or to introduce complex therapeutic concepts in an easier way. A well-chosen proverb can act as a starting point for deeper exploration, facilitating understanding and self-discovery.

Metaphorical insight

Proverbs can help clients visualize abstract or complex emotions through metaphors, making them more tangible and manageable. They may enable a client to externalize their feelings and view them from a different perspective, possibly aiding the healing process.

Fostering self-awareness

Proverbs frequently encourage introspection, helping individuals understand and express their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This self-awareness can lead to personal growth and the development of coping strategies.

Resilience and empowerment

By demonstrating wisdom and resilience, proverbs can inspire and empower individuals to face challenges with strength and grace. They may remind us of our inner resources and human capacity to overcome adversity.

Connection to universal human experience

Proverbs can link us to the broader human experience, providing a sense of belonging and common understanding. They may affirm that others have faced similar challenges and found wisdom, comfort, or solutions.

Learn how proverbial wisdom and mental health relate

Therapy and proverbial wisdom

Online therapists can integrate proverbial wisdom into their sessions to offer unique benefits, potentially making mental health treatment more engaging and culturally sensitive. Proverbs, being cross-cultural, can be used to personalize treatment plans, facilitate communication, and provide encouragement. 

Benefits of online therapy

The flexibility of online therapy may enable therapists to employ multimedia resources, including proverbs, possibly enhancing reachability and comfort for individuals seeking professional help. When it comes to choosing a therapist, you may have specific religious, cultural, or therapeutic preferences, and BetterHelp can help you find the right match through a brief intake questionnaire and the ability to switch therapists as needed. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy has generally established itself as an effective mode of mental health treatment that breaks down geographical barriers and offers cost-effective care. Moreover, research shows that it’s possible to build a strong therapeutic relationship online. This type of remote therapy can be effective in treating various mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. 


Proverbial wisdom, with its timeless insights and universal truths, generally continues to be an important resource in the field of mental health. From guiding individuals through personal challenges to serving as therapeutic tools that foster understanding and growth, proverbs may connect us to common human experiences. Whether utilized in therapy or embraced in everyday life, the wisdom in proverbs can serve as a valuable guide toward mindfulness, resilience, and empathy. To begin your therapeutic journey, you can connect with an online therapist through an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp in as little as 48 hours.
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