The Pursuit of Happiness (Psalm 1)

How important is happiness? What is its relation to success? Many think that success produces happiness, but a 2005 American Psychological Association study suggests the opposite. “Numerous studies show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health.”

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Psalm 1 speaks of the “blessed” or “happy” person and presents blessedness as a noble pursuit. But the psalmist does not present blessedness as a vague, ethereal concept; he shows quite concretely how to pursue happiness. The key to happiness, he says, is proper delight.

Happiness is not found “in the counsel of the wicked,” “in the way of sinners,” or “in the seat of scoffers.” Instead, the key to happiness is “delight … in the law of the LORD,” which is produced by consistent meditation “day and night.” If that is the key to happiness, is it any wonder that so many of us find happiness so elusive? How sad it is that, rather than finding delight in God’s word, we find it dreary and drudging to meditate on the word. We are so easily distracted by what is fallen and fading that we rush biblical meditation so that we can continue with our day. This ought not to be. Instead, we should find true delight in scriptural meditation if we will pursue happiness.

What does the happy person, whose delight is in the law of the Lord, look like? Verse 3 offers three characteristics. First, the happy man is fruitful: “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.” Second, the happy man perseveres: His “leaf does not wither.” Third, the happy man prospers: “In all that he does, he prospers.” Even if he does not appear to immediately prosper on earth, his treasure is laid up in heaven, where he will eternally prosper.

By contrast, “the wicked” are “like chaff that the wind drives away” (v. 4). They may prosper temporally but they will “perish” eternally (vv. 5–6). They may seem to stand strong now, but not forever.

But let us remember that these happy benefits are for those with a proper delight. How is your delight in God’s law? Do you find Scripture meditation a burden or a pleasure? Do you find greater delight in TV, food, work, family, or social media than in the law of God? Do you find yourself, as I do, falling short of this standard of consistent delight?

As you read the Psalms, you quickly discover that Psalm 1 is an ideal to which the psalmists themselves struggled to consistently live up. The psalmists knew, as we know, the struggle to find their delight in the law of God. They knew, as we know, that this is where their delight should be rooted, but too often they failed. Like Paul—and like us—they found themselves often crying, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). And this does not lead to happiness. Instead, it leads us to cry with the apostle, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Thankfully, he provides with the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).

Psalm 1 shows what it looks like to lead a righteous, blessed life, and yet, if we examine ourselves honestly, we will have to admit that we fall so far short of this ideal. That gives us every reason to look to our Saviour, whose delight was always in God’s law. Even as he hung on the cross, suffering for the sins of those he came to save, he was careful to meditate on and obey the Scriptures. “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28). In spite of the pain, in spite of the agony of forsakenness, he was still careful “to fulfil the Scripture.” He alone fully loved God’s law and fully delighted in God’s will.

Psalm 1, then, in a single, fell swoop, presents a standard, convicts us of failure, and drives us to the Saviour. Praise God that Christ “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

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