“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, ESV)
The Book of Ecclesiastes is about the wise preacher and king Solomon seeking the true value and purpose of life. In chapter 2, he is testing whether the value of life is found in pleasure. In the verses prior to our quote he discusses all kinds of things he did seeking a fulfilled life by pleasure – from gardening, to money, to music, to sex and everything in between.
The verses in our quote are his conclusions. Seeking to find the purpose of life in pleasure is empty and fruitless. There are many in our world that believe the goal of life is to do whatever makes you happy – that the ultimate sense of success is to live life doing what gives you the greatest pleasure.
The problem is that pleasure itself never leads to fulfillment, only to a greater sense of need. If the only thing one is seeking to attain in life is a fulfilling pleasure, it will become more and more difficult to attain as time goes by – like striving after wind.
There are things in this life that bring happiness and joy and pleasure, and it is certain that having these things is by no means wrong if they are attained in the proper way. But pleasure is not the purpose of life. Solomon shows the true purpose of a fulfilled life is to: “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Only then is there fulfillment in this life and in eternity.