Others have sought happiness through entertainment or a certain performer they just “love.” Some seek it in athletic endeavors, hobbies, travel, dancing, fashion, home improvements, wealth, status, alcohol, food and drugs. These all fail except for a brief period of satisfaction and sense of well-being.
Solomon and Joy
King Solomon conducted a series of experiments in a quest to discover by practical experience and analysis how to get the most and best out of life. His experiments included some of the these very areas just mentioned above. As Solomon described the parameters of his search for meaning in life, he used words that are translated into English as “mirth,” “laughter” and “pleasure,” all of which we normally associate with joy. Even more interesting is that the word translated “pleasure” in Ecclesiastes 2:1 is the Hebrew word simha, the word most frequently translated as “joy” throughout the Old Testament.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter— “It is madness!” and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself waterpools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces, I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
In verses 20, 22-23, 25, Solomon writes a few more conclusions after musing on several other analyses of wisdom and labor:
Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. . . . For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he had toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work grievous; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. . . . For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I?
Solomon admits that his quest rewarded him with a certain amount of joy, but he still found it unsatisfactory. We might think that with all his wealth, good health and a discerning mind, he would have had joy in abundance. What he accomplished, however, did not leave him with an enduring sense of well-being because his search continued after this experiment ended. He seems so frustrated that he says we should seize the joy as it comes along and be content with it (verse 24). His ultimate conclusion, found in verse 26, is that God determines whether we experience joy.