happy woman

Psalm 15 – How Do We Find Happiness?

 March 20, 2018

Happiness, the pursuit of happiness, is an American ideal. Everyone has the right to pursue his/her happiness, but what does that mean? What is happiness and how do we find it?

Happiness according to Webster

Webster says that happiness is a state of well-being and contentment. It’s not a state of ecstatic, frenzied delight, but quieter, recognizing that all is well in your own world, peace and contentment. How does one achieve this? Psalm for today offers a clue. One translation version of the Psalms entitles Psalm 15 as “True Happiness.”

Psalm 15

Psalm 15 is didactic, teaching psalm. In a time when the written word was uncommon, teaching was done primarily through memorization of lessons. These lessons used mnemonic devices to help the student remember. This psalm asks:  who is the true man/woman of God? In three parts, it instructs on what is necessary for worship to result in blessings. The first verse asks, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?” Followed by the response in verses 2-5b. The psalm ends with the reward, “He who does these things shall never be moved.”

The qualifications listed in verses 2-5b are 10 in number, forming a Decalogue, a common teaching device of the time. This person is to:

  1. Walk blamelessly and do right (reminiscent of Micah 6, “You have been told, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”).
  2. Speak truth.
  3. Not slander.
  4. Do no evil to friends.
  5. Not take up a reproach with a neighbor.
  6. Despise the wicked.
  7. Honor those who fear the Lord.
  8. Stand firm (swears to his own hurt and doesn’t change).
  9. Not lend money at interest.
  10. Not take bribes.

His reward is to enter the temple of the Lord, where he shall not be moved, like the man who builds his house on rock in Matthew’s gospel, 7:24-25. He will be blessed with security, and against all assaults of evil will stand unshaken as a rock.

Sins against communal life

This psalm doesn’t deal with big sins like murder, stealing, adultery, nor does it address the duties to God which are highlighted during Lent:  prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Rather it focuses on social sins which deal with community – lying, slander, gossip, bribery, greed. It provides simple rules for living in community with others.

This Godly person “speaks truth from his heart” There is congruence between their thoughts, words and actions; as they believe, so they speak and act. In Hebrew, “to speak in the heart,” means to think, so they think before they act. Godly people speak words that are truthful. They don’t lie or slander. They guard their tongue, perhaps asking, “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary,” before speaking. Neither do they associate with “bad company,” but associate with others like them. They are not greedy and don’t lend money at interest. Interest rates at that time were 20-50%, exploiting those in need.

God’s Holy Mountain

Our psalm asks:  who shall dwell on thy holy hill, or mountain. There is a strong tradition in Scripture of mountains being holy places, close to God. They are places of worship and retreat. Celtic spirituality speaks of such holy places as being places where the veil between this world and the next is thin; where one can experience God in a way that one cannot in the “real” world. Often these places are in the hilltop and mountain areas, such as St. Patrick’s Crough/mountain where Patrick would go to pray.

When Jesus was transfigured, he took Peter, James and John, up the mountain where they experienced a new reality. There the veil between this world and the next was thin and they see Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus; they were able to see Jesus as he truly was, in all his glory. God tells Peter, James and John, and consequently us as well, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

The mountaintop is a good place to be, as Peter acknowledges when he says, “Rabbi, it is good to be here.” But it can also be scary. The disciples were terrified.  It is hard to see God face to face. It can be hard to look at that other reality; that is why we only get glimpses now and then. We can’t live on the mountaintop, but there are times when the veil is thin.

It’s common at the time of death, that our loved one may see those who have gone before them into new life or see a vision of another reality. This can be a sacred time, their room becoming another “thin” place as they are caught between this world and the next. It can be a good place to be, a holy place, yet often we fear this time.

Happiness found in Community

Psalm 15 gives some simple requirements for being just and thereby being allowed in God’s holy mountain, which is ultimate happiness. It provides simple yet very helpful advice for all living here in community, to speak truth from our hearts, to think before we speak and ask ourselves, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary, to avoid hurtful gossip and slander. Happiness isn’t found in isolation but in right relationship with each other and our God.

If we are to find true happiness, peace and contentment in this world, we need to be aware of the next, that other reality that is more real than what we consider real. We need to remember what is necessary for communal living; that happiness is not found in isolation but in life shared in love with others. We need to remember that true happiness comes from listening to Jesus with our whole heart and mind, following him, putting our belief into action. Then we shall find the happiness we pursue.


This post is part of a series on the Psalms. Click on the button to follow the blog and receive a free copy of the book, Dancing on a High Wire, book 1 of the Dancing Through Life Series!   click here to follow blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.