Ecclesiastes – A View on Life and Happiness

I have just recorded the whole of Ecclesiastes in the NLT version which can be found here.

Ecclesiastes has always been one of my favourite books of the Bible, though that might seem odd with some of its negative themes, it has always made sense to me and echoed many of my own thoughts. There are many well-known quotes and ideas in Ecclesiastes that are used in everyday life that perhaps people aren’t aware are biblical. For example ‘There is a time for everything’ or ‘Meaningless, meaningless everything is meaningless’, ‘We can’t take our riches with us’, also ‘Eat drink and be merry’ is a concept that is brought up often as the writer sees the expanse of life and its purpose.

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As one who has often looked to the past and future and recognised the futility of all efforts, it is comforting to read Solomon’s view on life. He too see’s that what we do in the end comes to nothing. That history repeats itself in cycles, each generation forgets the earlier ones, the time and effort we take to build our fortunes is left to someone else.

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So with such a negative view on everything how can anyone take encouragement from this book? The encouragement I take is actually from a theme already mentioned;

‘So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realised that these pleasures are from the hand of God.’ Ecclesiastes 2:24.

This is a verse echoed a number of time in Ecclesiastes: 3:13, 3:22 and several others. Another verse I think that sums up the concept nicely is 5:18-20, after Solomon’s disappointing quest for meaning he writes;

‘Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past’.

In short, I take encouragement from the instructions to take enjoyment out of the daily activities of life, to enjoy those in-between parts as much as specific events. Consider the meals you eat everyday – food didn’t have to have such a variety of tastes, textures and colours, God made them for our enjoyment, and the social side of eating and drinking should never be under-rated. And with work, in the employment sense, as much as many of us dislike some of it, maybe a colleague annoys us, maybe we find the work dull, or stressful – God provided that job, he designed us to take happiness from the satisfaction of a task completed and well done; so enjoy those moments of victory. Similarly with any of those dreaded chores: cleaning, DIY, cooking, driving, which of us doesn’t feel epic when a nagging task has been accomplished.

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In chapter 9 Solomon goes one step further and says;

So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!’ Ecclesiastes 9:7-8

I take this as an added suggestion to splash out from time to time, look after yourself, and use those items you’re saving for a special occasion, just because you can. In life God wants you to be happy as any loving Father would.

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In a way the book The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin which I have recently read (and reviewed here) mirrors Ecclesiastes which is likely what prompted this little study. In the same way that Solomon records his efforts to find understanding and meaning in the world through many routes (projects, possessions, people) and along the way finds the path to happiness, Gretchin records her search for happiness through various approaches. Both come to very similar conclusions on what will make you happy. Gretchin talks about identifying what makes you happy and equally what makes you unhappy, and Solomon also addresses the unhappy side of the equation; the emphasis on the meaninglessness of eveything never fails to de-stress me and put everything back in perspecive.

I will finish with Solomon’s wise, optimistic and yet warning words;

‘Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.’ Ecclesiastes 11:9-10

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