Happiness principle number 1: True happiness is found only in the Lord.
How did Solomon get to such a dreary place? He started life well. In I Kings 3, we read that God offered Solomon anything he wanted. Rather than choosing selfishly, Solomon asked for wisdom and discernment so that he could rule his people well. This pleased the Lord, and he not only gave Solomon the godly wisdom he desired, but many other blessings, as well. Not only that, but the honor of building the Lord's temple fell to Solomon, for his hands were innocent of the bloodshed committed by his father, David. He enjoyed a wonderful relationship with God and the love of his people. If happy circumstances alone can make a happy heart, surely Solomon would have been the most joyful of men.
However, Solomon went against God's wisdom and substituted his own earthly thinking. Rather than marrying a God-fearing woman of his own people, as God commanded, he made a political match with the Egyptian pharaoh's daughter. This alone showed his weakening faith in the Lord. Rather than depending on the Lord to preserve Israel from any enemy, he chose to nullify the Egyptian threat through an unhealthy alliance.
After that, Solomon kept on marrying foreign women. He acquired a total of 700 wives and 300 concubines, most of whom worshiped idols rather than the true God. As God had warned, these wives turned Solomon's heart away from the Lord and into the worship of their idols.
Nehemiah 13:26 says, Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.
Without trust in the Lord to order his priorities, Solomon could no longer enjoy the blessings that the Lord had showered on him. He pursued these things for their own sakes, and he found them burdensome. The things that were meant to equip him and to bring him joy became empty. He pondered why it is that a simple laborer found satisfaction in his marriage, his labors,and his sleep, while he -- the king who had it all -- found no peace and no joy.
Yet, while the laborer is happy, he, too, will die one day. What, then, will come of all that the laborer toiled for? Those who die and pass on are hardly remembered on the earth. Their wealth is given to others who might not even know them. Solomon ponders the fate of the righteous and the unrighteous, of the just and the unjust, and he concludes that we are all powerless in the face of death. Not only that, but we are all subject to the suffering that has become part of a fallen world. Sometimes, this suffering is the direct result of our own folly; sometimes, it is through no fault of our own. Most of all, we are powerless in the face of judgement. This all points to our universal need for a Savior and to our universal need for grace. There is happiness in obedience, but we must never think our obedience is complete enough to save us. True righteousness brings satisfaction; self-righteousness is as empty, if not emptier, than hedonism.
Happily, Solomon came to his senses and returned to the Lord. After completing his investigation of life under the sun**, he came to the conclusion that it is the Lord who provides the meaning of life. Wisdom and intelligence, properly applied, are blessings. However, we don't have to have it all figured out to enjoy life, for God will make things clear.
Solomon writes: The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Fortunately for us, Solomon's study of life does provide us with some jewels of happiness. Just a few I've found are
1) There is a time for everything. Understanding this helps us cope with life's changes and also to choose actions and thoughts that are appropriate. Ecclesiastes 3:1
2) What if you commit a great error and someone of influence in your life becomes angry with you. Stay calm! Do your job. Ecclesiastes 10:4
3) Live with the end in mind -- you will die and face the judgement of God (unless the Lord returns first). Remember the Lord in all that you do, and, when you reach old age, you will look back on a life well lived. Ecclesiastes Chapters 11 and 12
4) Don't waste your youth in worry. There are many wholesome pleasures in life provided that you remember the Lord in all that you do. Ecclesiastes 11 and 12
5) Youth can be a time of intense desires for various things. Don't just give way to your desires. Begin early to live the kind of life that will bring you peace in your old age. Remember the Lord. Ecclesiastes 11 and 12.
* You probably know that the Hebrew word for this emptiness is translated as Vanity in the King James Version. Thackery borrowed this word when he wrote Vanity Fair, a book in which many characters pursue courses in life that lead to disappointment.
** Solomon uses the phrase under the sun repetitively in Ecclesiastes. Some think that this means life as viewed from a purely physical or earthly perspective and without a heavenly perspective. Others think it simply means life on earth or life in the realm that God created and over which God rules.