You Can Get Real Joy Out of Life
EVERYONE wants to get enjoyment out of life. People often try to fulfill that desire by various forms of recreation during leisure hours. There is no denying that recreation can bring benefits both mentally and physically.
However, higher wages and more available leisure time during recent years have led many to an interesting conclusion. They have learned by experience that ‘living the good life’ neither solves problems nor brings lasting happiness.
How, then, can people get real joy out of life? It will be profitable to consider an experiment made by King Solomon, who carefully investigated the reasons why most people have failed to achieve true happiness. Under inspiration of God, Solomon wrote down his experiences and conclusions in the book of Ecclesiastes. As to seeking happiness by pursuing pleasures, he writes:
“I explored with my heart by cheering my flesh even with wine, while I was leading my heart with wisdom, even to lay hold on folly until I could see what good there was to the sons of mankind in what they did under the heavens for the number of the days of their life. I engaged in greater works. I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them fruit trees of all sorts. I made pools of water for myself, to irrigate with them the forest, springing up with trees. I acquired menservants and maidservants, and I came to have sons of the household. Also, livestock, cattle and flocks in great quantity I came to have, more so than all those who happened to be before me in Jerusalem. I accumulated also silver and gold for myself, and property peculiar to kings and the jurisdictional districts. I made male singers and female singers for myself and the exquisite delights of the sons of mankind, a lady, even ladies. And I became greater and increased more than anyone that happened to be before me in Jerusalem. Moreover, my own wisdom remained mine. And anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them. I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing, for my heart was joyful because of all my hard work, and this came to be my portion from all my hard work.”—Eccl. 2:3-10.
The Bible writer carefully investigated the euphoric feeling that comes from drinking alcoholic beverages and which also is sought today through drug abuse. He amassed great wealth and surrounded himself with paradisaic beauty. He explored every type of leisurely enjoyment, including the best of musical entertainment and the delights of “a lady, even ladies.”
Pointing to the thoroughness of his investigation, Solomon writes: “And I, even I, turned to see wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the earthling man do who comes in after the king? The thing that people have already done.” (Eccl. 2:12) The point is this: Solomon’s investigation was thorough, since as king he had available sufficient time and resources. With far fewer resources than the king, “what can the earthling man do who comes in after” him? An ordinary person could cover only some of the same ground, doing what people have already done. To the person who firmly believes that he can find genuine happiness through pleasure-seeking, the king can answer: ‘I’ve already been there. It doesn’t work.’
It is important to note that Solomon did not say that all pursuit of pleasure is a waste of time. On the contrary, he acknowledged gaining a measure of enjoyment from what he did (“my heart was joyful because of all my hard work, and this came to be my portion from all my hard work”). But what was his verdict as to finding lasting happiness in the pleasures of wine, riches, entertainment and similar things? He answers straightforwardly: “And I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing of advantage under the sun.”—Eccl. 2:11.
This observation should not be viewed as negative, pessimistic. Instead, it is realistic and can aid individuals to avoid wasting many years of life pursuing happiness in ways that do not lead to it. On the other hand, the same Bible writer gives fine positive admonition on how to get real joy out of life. Among the things that he recommends is getting work and leisure into correct proportion.
Work Hard, but “See Good”
After describing overemphasis on pleasure as “vanity and a striving after wind,” the wise Bible writer goes on to say: “With a man there is nothing better than that he should eat and indeed drink and cause his soul to see good because of his hard work. This too I have seen, even I, that this is from the hand of the true God. For who eats and who drinks better than I do?” (Eccl. 2:11, 24, 25) Certainly the Bible commends hard work. “The stupid one is folding his hands [in refusal to work] and is eating his own flesh.” (Eccl. 4:5) But there is a need for balancing hard work with ‘seeing good,’ enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. “Better is a handful of rest,” says the inspired penman, “than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:6.
Likely you are acquainted with persons who work long hours of overtime each week or perhaps hold down two jobs. While this may be necessary in cases of special need, or to meet emergency expenses, many who spend nearly all their waking hours at work need not do so. Wherever possible, the Bible encourages incorporating “a handful of rest” into your daily routine. Take time regularly to enjoy eating, drinking and engaging in pleasant communication with loved ones. This is expressed beautifully in the following words:
“Go, eat your food with rejoicing and drink your wine with a good heart, because already the true God has found pleasure in your works. On every occasion let your garments prove to be white, and let oil not be lacking upon your head. See life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity, for that is your portion in life and in your hard work with which you are working hard under the sun.”—Eccl. 9:7-9.
Closely related is another important lesson from the book of Ecclesiastes.
Do Not Lose Sight of the Present
Ability to meditate on the past and to contemplate the future is a God-given gift to mankind. Making the future all the more appetizing is the Scriptural assurance of a new order of ‘new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is to dwell.’ (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5) It is fine to look forward to such blessings.
Perhaps you have noticed, though, that frequently people dwell upon the past and the future, to the neglect of the present. Habitual reminiscing about ‘the good old days’ only accentuates a person’s dissatisfaction with the way things are right now. The Bible warns against this, saying: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’ for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.” (Eccl. 7:10) It is equally unwise to center all one’s hopes for happiness on the future.
Getting real joy out of life calls for a realistic appraisal of the present. Solomon puts it this way: “Better is the seeing by the eyes than the walking about of the soul. This too is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Eccl. 6:9) Even wealthy people who have all that they desire in a material way recognize within themselves soulful desires that wealth cannot satisfy. Unfulfilled desires ‘walk about,’ so to speak, by driving people continually to seek changed circumstances. Though an occasional change from a person’s regular routine can be of benefit, some go to extremes by constantly changing their places of residence and employment, continually bounding from one thing to another in a vain quest for happiness. Much better, according to the Scriptures, is “the seeing by the eyes.” The truly wise course is for an individual to be content with and to enjoy what he can look at right now, that is, what he has at present. In this regard it will be profitable to consider the observations of two individuals who reflected on how to gain joy out of life.
“It’s the Present That Belongs to Us Now”
McCall’s magazine (May 1978) published the experience of a woman who, after her children had grown up and gone on their own, abandoned suburban life for a remote fishing village. She writes:
“Nothing in our society teaches us how to live now; everything in our society circumvents it. When we reach school, our parents and our teachers are already saying, What next? Get ready! We enter college and the pressure increases: What next? We become conditioned early to thinking ahead, and apply it everywhere; it has become a habit of thought. We look ahead to arriving somewhere—anywhere, it scarcely matters. We anticipate the wonderful day when we find the magic ‘other’ with whom life will be so much richer, and then to next year’s vacation, or to what we will do when the children are grown, or to retirement. We are always in suspension, and when the future arrives that is to magically heal and change us, it turns out to be no different from today.
“It is possible—it has to be possible—for us to cultivate a different kind of life, to live with more joy and awareness, with heightened consciousness, so that we deepen each moment and fill it with content. We pass over moments lightly, our eyes on tomorrow, but it’s the present that belongs to us now and is trembling with possibilities, not the future, which hasn’t arrived yet. It is only when we enter a moment and live it with attention that we become truly alive.”
“Success Is a Journey”
Forty-five minutes of meditation led to a similar conclusion on the part of Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. In his book Pulling Your Own Strings, Dyer writes:
“One of the biggest turning points in my life came many years ago when I happened to spend forty-five minutes supervising a study hall as a substitute teacher. On the back bulletin board of that room were written the words, ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’
“I studied those words for the full forty-five minutes, letting them sink into my very soul. Up until that day, I had, in fact, viewed life as a series of destinations and events. Graduations, diplomas, degrees, marriages, childbirths, promotions and other similar events were all destinations, and I was going from stop to stop.
“I vowed right there in that room that I was going to stop evaluating happiness on the basis of arriving at destinations and instead see the whole of my life as a continuing journey, each moment of which was there for me to enjoy. That key study-hall assignment gave this teacher one of life’s most important lessons: Don’t evaluate your life in terms of achievements, trivial or monumental, along the way. If you do, you will be destined to the frustration of always seeking out other destinations, never allowing yourself actually to be fulfilled. Whatever you achieve, you will immediately have to plan your next achievement so that you will have a new gauge of how successful and happy you are.
“Instead, wake up and appreciate everything you encounter along your path. Enjoy the flowers that are there for your pleasure. Tune in to the sunrise, the little children, the laughter, the rain and the birds. Drink it all in, rather than waiting to get to some always-future point where it will be all right for you to relax. Indeed, success—even life itself—is nothing more than moments to enjoy, one at a time. When you understand this principle, you will stop evaluating your happiness on the basis of achievements, and instead look upon the whole trip of life as something to be happy about. Or to sum it up, there is no way to happiness, because happiness is the way.”
The Importance of “Godly Devotion”
Determination not to lose sight of present blessings will surely make your life happier. But to get the very best out of life requires something more. How so?
The apostle Paul describes it, saying: “To be sure, it is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency.” (1 Tim. 6:6) The requisite quality is “godly devotion,” which refers to a way of life that exhibits reverence for the Creator. It is manifest in acting in a godly way toward one’s fellowman. The person desiring to live with godly devotion must take time to study the Holy Bible carefully, which will enable him to learn the type of conduct which God approves.
Learning and conforming one’s life to the will of God is truly a means of great gain. Such a course leads to future life in a new order where “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Rev. 21:4.
As for the present, living by Bible principles results in favor from God and the best of relationships with fellow humans. When a person displays the compassion, kindness, humility, patience and generosity that mark the Christian “new personality,” people reciprocate and the lives of all involved become happier.—Luke 6:38; Col. 3:10-14.
Real happiness is not attainable merely through pursuit of pleasures. The Bible encourages mingling hard work with “a handful of rest” each day for enjoying the fruits of one’s labors. Additionally, the Scriptures stress the importance of learning accurately about God and living by Bible principles.
“The conclusion of the matter,” observes Solomon, “everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) Will you meet that obligation by patterning your life according to Biblical guidelines? If you do you will have peace of mind with contentment. It is the only way to get real, lasting joy out of life.