Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! So cried the writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. He was beyond frustrated by the meaningless of life. There seemed to be no lasting satisfaction. What appeared to give happiness lasted only a fleeting moment. Labour was burdensome, and life had become like the grasping of the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). If we live long enough, inevitably, we will at some point share Solomon’s desperation over life!
Dating as far back as Aristotle and Plato, philosophers considered that there were two types of happiness. One termed hedonic happiness is found in the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. The other known as eudaemonic happiness is achieved by living virtuously, achieving inner harmony, and self-actualisation. Enough research has now been done to recognise that while the second type of happiness is linked to well-being, the first type is momentary and insatiable. Unfortunately, we often fail to differentiate between them.
So Solomon found himself lamenting. Everything was meaningless and he was insatiable. Riches, advancement, and pleasures left him empty. It so exasperated Solomon that he even came to hate life (Ecclesiastes. 2:17)! But by the goodness of God, wisdom prevailed over desperation and eventually, Solomon concluded that the best way to live is to rejoice, to do good, and enjoy the fruits of one’s labour.
Life gets to all of us at some point like it got to Solomon. On such days, instead of grasping at the wind and spiralling down the dark tunnel of desperation, we need to keep our eyes on God and remember that life is a gift that is best enjoyed virtuously, and rejoicing is a choice.
I remember a dear friend of mine when I was a young believer. Her eldest son was autistic. While it was extremely difficult for her, she constantly chose rejoicing over lamenting. She taught me the tenacity of faith. One day when she was recovering from an emotional breakdown, she said to me, “It is incredibly painful. It is not easy at all but I choose faith.” Those words of wisdom that I too will have to choose faith come what may is strongly etched in my heart.
Rejoicing is even more precious when we are facing tough situations.
The prophet Habakkuk declared, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
There are some of us who so desperately want to make sense of our life that our world has shrunk to the size of our desperation. Our pain causes us to retreat to our inner world of turmoil. And these days, many suffer from mental distress and emotional exhaustion.
Over-analysing, over-reflecting, over-thinking, over-controlling all lead to exhaustion and we are no wiser about life.
Do good, Solomon counselled us. Expand your world to include others. Happiness finds those who live beyond their desperation to do good for others. In healing others, we find our healing. In helping others, we are helped. In giving happiness, we receive happiness.
It is wisdom to get out of that bad space in our head that drives us insane with insatiable drive and endless plotting for more pleasure, more possession, more fame, more wealth, more security. Why grasp at the wind? It is an exercise in futility that leaves us frustrated and empty.
If we have worked hard, then let’s rejoice over the fruits of our labour. Cease judging ourselves and stop beating ourselves down. Don’t set ourselves up for misery with comparison and hush the noisy inner talk that tears us down. Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
Life is a gift to be unwrapped with God and not a prize to grasp at. Rejoice, do good, and enjoy the gift of God!