If Solomon was the wisest man to ever live (and God’s Word says he was), what are we to make of the Book of Ecclesiastes? If you’ve never read this twelve chapter missive, you’ve missed some interesting insights into the human condition.
In our society, people want to be happy. They try anything and everything to reach this state of bliss. Unfortunately, statistics show that 69 percent of Americans in 1991 didn’t consider themselves “very happy” (from Psychology Today, July 1, 1993).
Our wise Solomon had the same problem. “I said in mine heart, go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure” (Ec. 2:1). In a book with a theme of all is vanity, Solomon seems to have reached a low point in his life. He was unhappy.
Look at the list of things he tried while he desperately pursued happiness:
- Wine (v. 3): Our society is plagued with alcohol and drug problems. The higher unemployment rises, the higher the instance of drug and alcohol related arrests. Just like Solomon, many people seek happiness from intoxicants.
- Working harder (v. 4): If you know a workaholic, you know they aren’t content if they aren’t working. When they take a vacation from their employment (sometimes under duress), they have projects to work on at home. These people can’t sit still for anything. Some of them are trying to fill the void in their lives with work – trying to build happiness. It works for them as well as it did for Solomon.
- Pampering (v. 7): I’ll be the first to agree there’s nothing like a foot massage or body massage to induce relaxation in our stress-filled lives. However, having other people wait on us won’t make us joyful.
- Possessions (v. 7): In America, this motivates people like little else will. Cars, boats, RVs, computers, gadgets, and houses – the latest and greatest digs us into debt. Everyone feels entitled to more things, but once we have them, we’re ready for something else new. No lasting delight resides in possessing so much paraphernalia.
- Wealth (v. 8): This is tied to most of the other things on this list. Solomon was the richest man in the world, and it didn’t satisfy him or bring him peace of mind. Wealth is a wily mistress. Most millionaire lottery winners report they aren’t any happier after their windfall of cash than they were beforehand.
- Entertainment (v. 8): Rather than being idle, many people spend every waking hour away from work in pursuit of recreational pleasure. From baseball to skydiving and hiking to fishing, people are constantly seeking entertainment to fill up their time. It fills the hours (and often drains the pocketbook), but satisfaction dissipates quickly when the fun ends.
- Fleshly desires (v. 10): A man who had 1000 women to choose from, Solomon obviously didn’t say “no” to his physical appetites. We’re no different today. If it feels good, we do it and consider the consequences later (if we have to). In fact, looking for this feel good sensation is the purpose behind many of the other things on this list.
In the end, Solomon declared his dalliances with all these things futile. “Therefore I hated life: because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ec. 2:17).
If you’re in search of those elusive physical pleasures, take a word of advice from the wisest man in history – forget it.
Let’s look instead at what Jesus Christ has to say on this subject.
In John 13, Jesus is hours away from arrest and a day away from being brutally crucified. He spent his final hours trying to show his disciples the key to happiness. First step: washing their feet.
In Bible times, this task was reserved for the lowest servant. Jesus didn’t shirk the task. He wanted us to realize that in giving to others selflessly, we can find true fulfillment. After he finished washing 24 grimy feet, Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17).
Happiness isn’t about fulfilling our personal desires, it’s about looking outside ourselves. Once the focus is off “what I want,” I can see the needs of those around me: family, friends, brethren and strangers. Willingly meeting those needs gives that sense of personal satisfaction that lasts long after the new car smell has dissipated.
If you’re desperately seeking happiness, look around you. Who can you help today? Doing good deeds is medically (and spiritually) proven to release endorphins, the feel good chemicals that signal your brain that happiness has arrived.