Can Riches Make You Happy?
King Solomon knew the value of money. He wrote: “Bread is for the laughter of the workers, and wine itself makes life rejoice; but money is what meets a response in all things.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) Dining with friends can be most enjoyable, but to obtain bread or wine, you need money. Since money is the means by which material things are obtained, it “meets a response in all things.”
THOUGH Solomon was fabulously wealthy, he knew that riches have their limitations. He recognized that a materialistic way of life does not unlock the door to happiness. He wrote: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income.”—Ecclesiastes 5:10.
Suppose a wealthy person obtains even greater wealth. Solomon says: “When good things become many, those eating them certainly become many.” (Ecclesiastes 5:11) As a person’s “good things,” or possessions, increase, more people are needed to care for them. Repairmen, caretakers, servants, security people, and others—all must be paid for their services. In turn, this requires ever more money.
Such a situation has a direct bearing on a person’s happiness. The Greek historian Xenophon, who lived in the fourth century B.C.E., wrote down the comments of a poor man who had become rich:
“Why, do you actually suppose . . . that the more I own, the more happily I live? You are not aware,” he went on, “that it gives me not one whit more pleasure to eat and drink and sleep now than it did when I was poor. My only gain from having so much is that I am obliged to take care of more, distribute more to others, and have the trouble of looking after more than I used to have. For now many domestics look to me for food, many for drink, and many for clothes, while some need doctors; and one comes to me with a tale about sheep attacked by wolves, or of oxen killed by falling over a precipice, or to say that some disease has broken out among the cattle. And so it looks to me . . . as if I had more trouble now through possessing much than I used to have from possessing little.”
Another reason why people pursue ever more wealth is that they are beguiled by what Jesus Christ called “the deceptive power of riches.” (Matthew 13:22) They are deceived because in these riches that they so ardently seek, they never find the satisfaction or happiness they expected to find. They reason that what limited wealth fails to do, greater wealth will do. So there is a constant striving for more.
Love of Money Does Not Lead to Happiness
Concern about his possessions may prevent a rich man from enjoying a peaceful night’s rest. Solomon writes: “Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats; but the plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.”—Ecclesiastes 5:12.
When worry about the possible loss of one’s wealth is taken to an extreme, more is involved than lack of sleep. Describing the miser, Solomon writes: “All his days he eats in darkness itself, with a great deal of vexation, with sickness on his part and cause for indignation.” (Ecclesiastes 5:17) Instead of finding happiness in his wealth, he eats ‘with vexation,’ as though he begrudges even the money he has to spend for food. Such a sick mental outlook may contribute to poor health. In turn, poor health adds to the anxiety of the miser, since it hinders him from amassing greater wealth.
Perhaps this reminds you of what the apostle Paul wrote: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some . . . have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) In the pursuit of money, people cheat, lie, steal, prostitute themselves, and even commit murder. The result is a person stabbed with emotional, physical, and spiritual pains because of trying to grasp and hold on to riches. Does this sound like the road to happiness? Hardly!
Being Content With What We Have
Solomon had more to say about a balanced view of riches. He wrote: “Just as one has come forth from his mother’s belly, naked will one go away again, just as one came; and nothing at all can one carry away for his hard work, which he can take along with his hand. Look! The best thing that I myself have seen, which is pretty, is that one should eat and drink and see good for all his hard work with which he works hard under the sun for the number of the days of his life that the true God has given him, for that is his portion.”—Ecclesiastes 5:15, 18.
These words show that happiness does not lie in striving to stockpile wealth for a time that may never come for us. Far better it is to be satisfied and to rejoice in the results of our hard work. The apostle Paul expressed a similar thought in his inspired letter to Timothy, saying: “We have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”—1 Timothy 6:7, 8; compare Luke 12:16-21.
The Key to Happiness
Solomon possessed an abundance of both riches and godly wisdom. But he linked happiness with wisdom, not with money. He said: “Happy is the man that has found wisdom, and the man that gets discernment, for having it as gain is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce than gold itself. It is more precious than corals, and all other delights of yours cannot be made equal to it. Length of days is in its right hand; in its left hand there are riches and glory. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its roadways are peace. It is a tree of life to those taking hold of it, and those keeping fast hold of it are to be called happy.”—Proverbs 3:13-18.
Why is wisdom superior to material possessions? Solomon wrote: “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12) While money provides a measure of protection, enabling its owner to buy what he needs, wisdom can safeguard a person from taking risks that may jeopardize his life. Not only may true wisdom save a person from a premature death but, since it is based on a proper fear of God, it will lead to the gaining of everlasting life.
Why does godly wisdom lead to happiness? Because true happiness can come only from Jehovah God. Experience proves that genuine happiness can be gained only through obedience to the Most High. Enduring happiness depends on an approved standing with God. (Matthew 5:3-10) By applying what we learn from a study of the Bible, we will cultivate “the wisdom from above.” (James 3:17) It will give us happiness that riches can never bring.
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King Solomon knew what makes a person happy. Do you?