Why are some of the most prosperous people some of the least satisfied? What is the real secret of satisfaction and contentment?
Throughout human history, people have been searching for contentment and satisfaction—but when they think they have found it, the feelings have been fleeting and temporary. Mostly people have been looking in all the wrong places.
For example, it is common and seems logical to conclude that if everyone were prosperous, everyone would automatically be content and satisfied. But is having enough to eat and drink with the peace to enjoy it enough to make us lastingly content? Is physical abundance the cause of contentment and satisfaction?
What is the real source of deep, lasting contentment and eternal satisfaction? We’ll see it’s not prosperity that will bring contentment. It’s something much more important.
The satisfaction experiment
How do we know that physical things alone won’t satisfy people? We may know this by personal experience or by learning about others’ experiences.
We can also learn it by reading about it in a book of revealed wisdom. There are verses in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes that tell us:
“The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (1:8).
“All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied” (6:7).
No matter what we see or hear or taste—whatever we experience with our physical senses—it will be temporary.
King Solomon performed the quintessential experiment on this subject. He recorded his experimental search for happiness and satisfaction in Ecclesiastes 2. In this chapter, we see a man who had it all—who was rich and powerful and had everything he could imagine. Few people in history have had all the blessings he had—and yet he was not satisfied. He decided to try an experiment to see what would really bring him the satisfaction he longed for. He tried humor and wine and song—every type of entertainment. He tried building projects and big fancy homes and gathering all the treasures and luxuries he could.
Solomon summarized his experiment this way: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor” (Ecclesiastes 2:10).
Yes, he had some level of rejoicing and reward for what he accomplished. God designed the physical world to give us joy. But Solomon goes on in verse 11 to show the longer-term outcome of his experiment: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed it was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”
He found it all futile—empty—like trying to grab a handful of wind!
Solomon’s reign was a time of plenty. The people of Israel, and Solomon in particular, were blessed with peace and abundance. But Solomon learned that peace and prosperity are not everything. These physical blessings aren’t what bring ultimate satisfaction and contentment. You can have it all—physically—but still feel empty inside.
The real source of satisfaction
So what does bring true contentment—real satisfaction?
Solomon concluded the book of Ecclesiastes with this moral of the story: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (12:13). This is what makes us whole and complete.
Solomon explained it more completely in Proverbs 19:23: “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil” (emphasis added).
The main Hebrew and Greek words translated fear in the Bible can have several shades of meaning, but in the context of the fear of the Lord, they convey a positive reverence.
The Hebrew verb yare can mean “to fear, to respect, to reverence” and the Hebrew noun yirah “usually refers to the fear of God and is viewed as a positive quality. This fear acknowledges God’s good intentions. … This fear is produced by God’s Word … and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament).
The fear of the Lord is not talking about a paralyzing terror. The positive fear of the Lord taught in the Bible is a key element in leading us to change. It helps us have a proper, humble perspective of ourselves in relation to our awesome God; it helps us in times of temptation when we need to remember the serious consequences of disobeying God; and it motivates us to become more like our loving Creator.
By doing these things, the fear of the Lord helps us build a strong, loving relationship with God that brings eternal benefits. (Learn more about this in our article “Fear of the Lord: What Does It Mean?”)
When we do put God first—fearing to displease Him and seeking to please Him always—we will be on the way to true and eternal satisfaction.Even in the “Millennium”—the utopian age God promises will spread around the world after Jesus Christ’s second coming—peace and prosperity and physical things won’t be the cause of satisfaction. The real contentment comes from a right relationship with God.
When we do put God first—fearing to displease Him and seeking to please Him always—we will be on the way to true and eternal satisfaction.
God has real and permanent eternal blessings in store—He has things that the human eyes have not seen and that human minds have not even imagined!
Consider some wisdom recorded by King Solomon’s wise and God-fearing father, King David. Psalm 36 starts by talking about those who do not fear God, and how that leads to sin, wickedness and evil. But in verses 7-8 David shows the eternal blessings of a close relationship with God:
“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.”
Learn the lessons of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes and recognize that the true source of satisfaction and contentment—now and forever—is a right relationship with our loving God!