The Pursuit of Happiness
We Americans love our rights spelled out in the Declaration of Independence – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness! We defend them and hold them close to our hearts, and for good reason indeed. Today, we want to focus on the Pursuit of Happiness. What does it mean to pursue happiness and meaning in life? Where, or to whom, do we turn for guidance?
As with most things, we at FLC like to consult God’s Word and lean into His wisdom, because the wisdom that comes from the world will often fail us. In this case, we will try to glean as much as we can from one of the wisest men who ever lived, one of the greatest and most successful Kings of Israel – King Solomon.
We begin unpacking true happiness and the search for meaning in Ecclesiastes. This book has been called “The search for happiness under the sun”, so it seems like the perfect place to start.
We acknowledge that not many people study Ecclesiastes for insight and wisdom. Stylistically, the book is quite difficult to understand due to its rambling monologue, not to mention Solomon’s statement that “everything is meaningless” which appears more than a couple dozen times throughout. We wouldn’t blame you for skipping to the more palatable books in the Bible. Today, however, let us dig into the book and pull out some applicable truths for our businesses and our lives.
Where Not to Look
First of all, let’s debunk the myth that happiness and fulfillment can be found in material or superficial things. Despite what the world tells us, happiness is not found in:
Solomon learned all he could. He educated himself in all things, but still, he wasn’t satisfied. He may have been the wisest man on earth in his time, but no one would claim he was the happiest. It’s questionable whether he was often happy at all.
Having fun and seeking pleasure
This is what worldly wisdom would call happiness. According to worldly people, having fun equals happiness and fulfillment – but Solomon says that this is not the case either. If anything, it is a paradox of pleasure where the law of diminishing returns applies; the more people seek pleasure, the less they find it. It’s like trying so hard to fly and always falling to the ground – the higher you climb to jump from, the more painful it is when you fall.
Acquiring and growing wealth, seeking money and the things that it can buy, and everything else that materialism consists of can’t give you lasting happiness. Even Solomon wasn’t satisfied with the things his riches could get him. We often think that happiness goes hand-in-hand with financial stability, but that is only half true. Your happiness will be fleeting and momentary if monetary gain is your only goal.
Lessons from Solomon
It’s clear that Solomon tried – and failed – to find happiness in many of the places we commonly search for it. Let’s take an extensive look into the life of Solomon and what we can learn from his time testing the various ways men seek happiness.
- Wealth – He was one of the richest men who ever lived, so he could buy anything he wanted.
- Power – He was the King and had tons of power, so he could do whatever he wanted.
- Gratification – He had the means to get whatever he wanted, and he did just that. He was married to 700 wives and had 300 concubines.
Solomon had tried all the worldly things that was possible to try and did everything that he could do, but at the end of the day, he felt just as unfulfilled, tired, disappointed, and unsatisfied as he was before. At the end of his lifelong search, he had come up empty – and that must have hurt a lot.
All these things we mention above are not bad in and of themselves, but we know they shouldn’t be the sole target of our lives. We also know they don’t lead to happiness and fulfillment by themselves.
From our journey through the book, we find that Solomon doesn’t give solid conclusions, unfortunately. It seems his goal for the book was simply to illustrate our inability to find meaning and purpose in the world around us. Solomon’s findings were that ‘everything’s boring, utterly boring – no one can find any meaning in it,’ (Ecclesiastes 1:8, MSG).
- Solomon refutes our expectations that we can live our life on our own terms and be satisfied.
- He asserts that true peace and purpose can only be found in the Lord, seeking His Glory and the advancement of the Kingdom
Where Does Happiness Truly Lie?
If we can’t turn to money, and we can’t turn to material things, where do we search for happiness? Is it our careers; our loved ones; our possessions? You might ask, what do we do here on earth? How do we live a happy and meaningful life?
First of all, Solomon says we need to enjoy our work.
- Eccl 3:22 (NIV) says that Solomon “saw that there is nothing better for one than to enjoy their work.”
His response is so simple – you might have expected more from someone who had tested and tried everything. Work hard, enjoy the journey, but don’t expect this to satisfy the soul.
- Eccl 3: 12-13 (NIV) says that there’s “nothing better for people than to be glad and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift from God.”
This response reminds us that our satisfaction does not come from what we do to gain happiness, but we should still enjoy the things that bring momentary joy. It is all that we can do – it is the most we can do! While we go ahead doing what we can do, being good, eating, drinking, and relating with people – all while looking to God for support and guidance – we will find satisfaction with all we do.
The Home of Happiness
We have understood that no matter how far we search, so long as we are searching among the things of this earth, we will not find lasting happiness. We have also established that we should do what is within our power and aim to do it well.
In his book, Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller let us know that a biblical perspective of our work improves our desire to make value from the resources that are available to us. “A biblical understanding of work energizes our desire to create value from the resources available to us. Recognizing the God who supplies our resources, and who gives us the privilege of joining in as co-cultivators, helps us enter into our work with a relentless spirit of creativity.”
If we truly desire happiness, then we should go straight to its source – our amazing God. Recognizing the Giver of all things and constantly seeking Him are all steps in the right direction. When we make our home with God, we are also building our home into the source of everything else we could possibly desire. It sounds so simple, yet it is so tasking; one of the hardest things we can do as humans is letting go and trusting God when we know we can’t help ourselves. Seek God in all things, and satisfaction will flow abundantly from your cup.
From Solomon, and maybe some of our personal experiences, it is clear that our meaning, purpose, and happiness cannot be found in this world. We are to take a lesson from Solomon – the man who tried it all – to save ourselves some time and not search for happiness as he did. Do your work as best you can and leave the rest up to God. Take comfort knowing that it’s our privilege to work, and that we’re to use all that God has given us to do it well. We hope you are encouraged by this, and that it prompts you to lean into God for your truest sense of happiness.