Everybody wants to be happy. The question is, “What will make a person happy?”
The book of Ecclesiastes is remarkable because it provides a detailed account of a wealthy, powerful man pursuing various supposed means of becoming happy, or contented. Solomon tries every main category of secular pursuit. That is, he looks for happiness “under the sun” or without taking the will of the supernatural God into consideration.
- Solomon attempted to find happiness in wisdom, or learning (Ecclesiastes 1:13-18). And, although Solomon found that there is more to be gained in wisdom than in folly (2:13-14; 7), he concluded that “in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (1:18).
- Solomon attempted to find happiness in wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; 5:8-6:12). But, he found that “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (5:10).
- Solomon attempted to find happiness in various pleasures (1:17; 2:1-11). But, he found that “all was vanity and striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (2:11).
- Solomon attempted to find happiness in power (1:12-13; 2:9). But yet again, he found that “all is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:14), because even the powerful die and are forgotten (1:3-4, 11; 2:18-23).
Finally, Solomon recognized that true satisfaction is to be found only in God: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). Humans are created to love God, and when we fulfill this function, we will be satisfied. Notice that to live life in fellowship with God is not to eliminate all learning, wealth, pleasures, or power from our experience. (In fact, Ecclesiastes discusses the relative value of earthly goods and noble, secular pursuits.) Rather, living life with God is to subject everything to Him in Whom we can be fully satisfied (Matthew 6:25-34; 11:29-30; John 10:10; Romans 12:1-2).
If we learn from Ecclesiastes, then we can find satisfaction in God without looking for happiness in all of the wrong places.