Big Idea: We won’t find happiness in learning, pleasure, or achievement, but earthly joys point us to the One who can satisfy us.
We all want the same thing: happiness. Every one of us. The question is: how do we get it?
That is the question we all face. We try to find and keep happiness. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, writes:
Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.
Every person in this room, and every person in this community, is looking for happiness, and we’re trying all kinds of things to try to get it.
But there are only so many options. And that’s where we find ourselves today in the book we’re studying.
Let’s look at the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. This book is a wisdom book, meaning that it’s meant to teach us how to live skillfully in this world. It points out the very real fact that everything in this life is temporary, fleeting, and repetitive. How do we find happiness in a world like this?
You run some experiments to see what works. That’s what one author (Gretchen Rubin) did, as she describes in her book The Happiness Project, doing things like singing in the morning, cleaning her closet, and reading Aristotle to see what would make her happy.
And that’s exactly what the Preacher does in the passage we just read. He runs some experiments to see which ones lead to happiness.
So let’s see what experiments the Preacher tried to find happiness. You’re going to see that not much has changed. These are the same experiments we try today.
Experiment One: Learning
The Preacher starts with learning. “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). The scope is breathtaking. He wants to conduct a comprehensive search. This is not a cursory search; it’s a comprehensive one. He wants to look at everything, including folly according to verse 17. He’s looking under every rock. No stone is unturned.
This is an admirable quest in many ways. It’s what lies at the heart of our educational system, our universities and bodies of higher knowledge. There’s great prestige in becoming an authority in your field. Our schools, libraries, and bookstores are all part of this quest, and it’s a good one.