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Ecclesiastes: Searching for Happiness

Learn from every guru. Read every book. Watch the documentaries. Try on different worldviews.

There is some value in this approach. In 2:13 he says, “Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” It’s not like wisdom and learning is all bad.

But this experiment fails for two reasons.

First: some things are just inscrutable. No matter how much wisdom we have, we won’t be able to figure things out. That’s what he means when he says in verse 15:

What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.

In other words, there are unsolvable problems, and there are things we can’t know. There will always be some aspects of life that remain a mystery no matter how hard we try to understand them.

There’s a second reason this experiment fails. More knowledge can just produce more frustration. Look at verse 18: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). The picture he paints is that of irritation, or frustration verging on anger. Learning can’t make you happy. Understanding life doesn’t always make us happier. That’s why they say that ignorance is bliss. Or, as somebody else (John Cheever) said, “The main emotion of the adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.”

So we don’t find our meaning through learning. You won’t find happiness at the bookstore, university, or through gurus, no matter how good they are.

Experiment Two: Pleasure

Experiment two is a little more fun. In 2:1 he says: “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’” Verses 2 to 8 describe all the things he tried: comedy, alcohol, all the finer things in life. He had the best houses and gardens and all the accouterments. On top of that, he had women. He had more sexual partners than anyone could imagine. He denied himself nothing. He become a hedonist. He had it all.