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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Psalms and the pursuit of happiness | The desires of our hearts

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.




Happy, or blessed, is the first word of the psalter. It can mean both, but we can be afraid sometimes to acknowledge that the Bible talks about happiness – and does it rather a lot. In the Psalms alone, there are 24 ‘happy are those’ sayings. You could say that the Psalms are an extended reflection on happiness and the life of faith.

I wonder what happiness looks like for you – and how your idea of happiness shapes your choices at work, at home, in your leisure time, in what you do in church, or even what church you attend? The pursuit of happiness is a very human concern, and one that, over time, we have even come to see as a fundamental right (as is expressed in the American Declaration of Independence).

But what does it mean to be happy? What if it is elusive? What if my happiness means your unhappiness, and vice versa?

The Psalms wrestle with these questions. This means that thinking about happiness is not a bad thing; indeed, it is even a good thing. It is an appropriate topic for those who follow God to meditate on, and crucial for us to explore so we can discern how our pursuit of happiness can be shaped and fashioned according to the ways of God. Yet how often do we explore happiness in our study, teaching, and prayers?

Psalm 1 starts with a series of affirmations: happiness is found in walking in the paths of God. Psalm 1 helps us orientate ourselves in the landscape of happiness. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us will immediately say, ‘but that isn’t always how it works!’ Sometimes walking with God feels far from a happy journey, and walking with God can seem a considerably more rocky path towards happiness than doing what we would prefer to do.

This dilemma will occupy the rest of the Psalms’ sayings on happiness. But Psalm 1 sets us up to think about it: happiness depends on where our ‘delight’ is. What we desire shapes our experience of life and our ability to experience happiness.

As we start exploring the Psalms, ask yourself what is it you most desire. How does this shape your choices about what you do, who you reach out to, and what you choose not to do? What factors in your experience, life, family, and spiritual journey have shaped these choices?

Revd Prebendary Dr Isabelle Hamley
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops

Spend some time reflecting on what you desire for yourself, for family, for the work, study, or volunteering you engage in, and for your life with God. How does ‘delight in God’ shape what you long for? Join the conversation below.


  1. I remember a comment, from maybe John Mark Comer, on this subject, on turning the phrase around to “the happiness of pursuit”. This sees happiness as a by-product of an everyday life following Jesus.
    Malc Allen

    By Malc Allen  -  18 Sep 2023
  2. I worry so much about my children’s happiness. They are 36, and 28 year old twins. They are single and get made redundant and their tough job interviews get them an intern or a short contract job. The process repeats. They all have traits of anxiety and periods of melancholy/tearfulness. They don’t want to bring children in to the world as it is.
    My “world” seemed so different at their age. Recessions were hard and as parents if three we worked around the clock for years and years. The marriage isn’t good but we are still together and manage because we both care about our kids. I couldn’t manage without my church and faith but I had a stable childhood. My husband didn’t. My children must be affected by our stressful and stressy marriage.
    If only they could all meet a lovely person to share all their worries and anxieties with.

    By Louise Ross  -  18 Sep 2023
  3. Thank you. This Psalm offers me my ‘rules of life’ and I return to it time and time again. But it is interesting it starts with three ‘do nots’, three avoidances, before locating the source of our delight. Meditating on this Psalm has brought me much ‘happiness’.

    By Mike H  -  18 Sep 2023
  4. What a great reminder and focus!

    By Tony Smallwood  -  18 Sep 2023

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