The Secret to Happiness
First published at The Gospel Coalition (TGC)
Happiness is declining.
Americans have grown less happy since the 1990s, with an even steeper decline since the 2000s. A global pandemic has made the trend even worse. According to a 2020 University of Chicago poll, Americans were the unhappiest they had ever been since conductors started collecting data in 1972.
How can we reverse the trend? How can we be happy?
Ancient Wisdom for Today
Believe it or not, this isn’t a new question. Our cultural moment makes the problem feel acute, but the pursuit of happiness is a well-worn path.
The book of Psalms, written about 3,000 years ago, begins with this exact issue: “Blessed is the man” (Ps. 1:1). Another way to translate this word is “happy.” “Happy is the man.”
Do you want a happy life? Listen to the wisdom of this psalm; the answer may surprise you. Happy is the man whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).
Don’t be misled by Psalm 1’s simplicity. This is profound wisdom, guaranteed to produce the joy our souls crave.
Meditate on Scripture
The two lines of Psalm 1:2 are parallel. To delight in the law of the Lord is to meditate on it day and night. That’s quite the task! Do you have to become a monk to be happy? Do you need to spend all day studying God’s Word and doing nothing else?
The short answer is no. But we should delight to know God’s Word—and one way we do that is by setting aside time to study it. If I spent one less hour per day meditating on my phone, and one more on God’s Word, I would almost certainly be happier. Psalm 1 beckons us to make Bible meditation an everyday thing. When you see a beautiful spring flower, you can pause and praise because you remember that James says all good things come from God (James 1:17). When you’re faced with a dilemma at work, you can ask God for wisdom because you read that he loves to give it (James 1:5).
God’s Word is joy fuel. Our happiness will ebb and flow to the extent we’re mulling it over in our minds and hearts.
Follow the Science
Interestingly, social science points us in the same direction. Studies show religious people are far happier than nonreligious people. They’re happier in their work, and they’re more emotionally (even physically) healthy.
One study looked specifically at church attendance. Of those who attend a church service “seldom or never,” only 26 percent report being “very happy.” Of those who attend monthly or less, 31 percent report being very happy—an improvement. And of those who attend weekly or more, 43 percent report being “very happy.” From 26 to 43 percent—that’s a big difference!
By the numbers, 2020 was one of the unhappiest years in recent memory. But there’s one subgroup whose mental health actually improved in 2020. Can you guess it? Those who attended a religious service weekly or more.
Do you want a happy life? Follow the science! Come to church every week. It is especially by hearing God’s Word proclaimed, Sunday after Sunday, that we learn to delight in His law and find true happiness.
Look to Christ
Our culture says, “Follow your heart,” “You do you,” “Live your authentic life,” and so on. Such platitudes imply the key to happiness is found within. But Psalm 1 disagrees. The key to happiness isn’t inside of you; it’s outside of you. The key to happiness is found in God and His Word.
We’ve bought the lie that God’s law stifles our happiness. To one degree or another, we all live that way. But the truth is that the law of God is the key to our happiness.
Do you want a happy life? Put all your trust in Christ. Practice repentance. Strive to live in obedience to God with His help. See if it doesn’t make you happier.
He Secures Our Happiness
God has given us the key to happiness. Tragically we often reject it, delighting instead in ourselves and our sin. We don’t deserve to be happy in this life or the next. We deserve to perish in the day of God’s judgment (Ps. 1:5–6).
But the good news is that there is One who has never sinned and has fully delighted in the law of the Lord. Jesus Christ chose to stand in our place, taking God’s judgment we deserved. He suffered, died, and rose so that now we can stand in the judgment—not by our own merit, but by His perfect righteousness. Our eternal joy is secure in Him.
Happy is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in the Lord of the law.