That Illusive Thing Called Satisfaction

You have probably heard more than a few advertisements with promises of “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!” Advertisers are confident most people won’t bother returning the product for a refund even though they’re not satisfied.

Most of us are used to not being “100% satisfied.” We accept disappointments as part of everyday life. We have come to realize satisfaction is relative and happiness is temporary.

The idea of satisfaction has a low threshold for many. Suppose there is enough food for the day, shelter from the elements, and relative safety. In that case, most people are satisfied. The expectation of satisfaction in life is more of a first-world concern than the rest of the world.

I have seen how many people who live at the poverty level are often more content and satisfied with their lives. They have lower expectations, and their lives are simpler than in developed nations. I do not want to make light of the problem of poverty. It is a real problem. Still, having more does not always bring satisfaction.

Western cultures, especially America, are typically more concerned with more self-absorbed needs, as echoed in a line from a 1965 rock and roll hit, “I can’t get no satisfaction!”

Do you base your level of satisfaction in life on what you want but lack – or your basic needs? What we complain about is often an indicator of how self-absorbed we are.

Solomon shared some wisdom from his ancient perspective, which is still relevant to us today—

Everything that people work so hard for goes into their mouths, but their appetite is never satisfied. It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. It’s like trying to catch the wind. Who knows what may be good for mortals while they are alive, during the brief, pointless days they live? (Eccl 6:7, 9, 12 GW)

Until the middle of the twentieth century, only the wealthy and privileged were concerned with what we now consider inconveniences. The rich had expectations of more than the necessities of life.

But from the 1950s on, as we recovered from a global economic depression and WWII, more and more people experienced opportunities and affluence once reserved for the wealthy. Perhaps longing for “the good old days” isn’t so much about nostalgia as a longing for a simpler way of life.

Insights from Solomon

In the second half of Ecclesiastes 6, I see five frustrations and questions expressed by Solomon — a man unsatisfied with “life under the sun.”

Our bodies need food. But how much food do we need and what foods are best for us? Opinions abound in answer, but one thing is certain — many in developed countries eat more than their bodies need. And what we eat is not always healthy.

Working for food and other basic needs is a reasonable motive for work. But, we are rarely satisfied with the basics. We want more. That leads to dissatisfaction. “And yet the soul is not satisfied.” (Eccl 6:7 NKJV).

Solomon questions if the rich have an advantage over the poor in navigating life’s journey (Eccl 2:15). The poor have less to lose when disasters take place but are more likely to help their neighbors than the wealthy.

Solomon sees the benefit of contentment with what a person already has rather than seeking more. Another version puts it this way, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.” (Eccl 6:9 NIV) This reminds me of what is called FOMO, the fear of missing out. Solomon says, “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

In verse 10, Solomon reaches back to the famous expression, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9–11), and adds a reminder, “And he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he.”

There will always be others who are greater than us in authority, power, and strength. Solomon refers to God, Who is greater than all.

The last two verses of Chapter 6 echo Solomon’s thoughts at the beginning of Chapter 5. Speaking less and listening more is more useful than the other way around. For all the talk, questioning, and theorizing people may do, only God knows the future.

There is nothing better for people to do than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. I saw that even this comes from the hand of God. (Eccl 2:24 GW)

 Existential Reflections for Everyday Life

 Comparing our lives with others is a sure path to dissatisfaction and trouble. It leads to more frustrations and an unsatisfied life. It makes us and those around us miserable. A simple application is to lower your expectations to live a happier life.

Frustrations are common to all. What is different for each of us is the source of our frustration. What bothers me may differ much from what bothers you. Disappointments lead to frustrations.

Most disappointments result from unmet expectations. Some expectations are reasonable and realistic. When we work for an agreed wage, we expect to get paid the same when we finish the work. When we order an item from a menu at a restaurant, we expect to receive what we ordered.

However, things don’t always go as expected. While overseas, my wife ordered a hamburger but received a cheeseburger. When she told the server about the mix-up, the server explained, “I’m sorry ma’am, we’re out of ham.”

My wife’s restaurant experience resulted from a misunderstanding of culture and language. Living overseas taught us the need to adjust our expectations to the reality of life as it is. Just because an expectation seems reasonable to us does not mean it is realistic.

The frustrations and questions that bothered Solomon were the consequence of unmet expectations. God gave Solomon great wisdom. Solomon’s expectations of knowing and understanding all there is to know and understand were unreasonable and unrealistic.

Solomon’s frustrations and questions resulted from his limitations as a human. Such things are common to us all. And these disappointments and mysteries can lead us to an unsatisfied life if we let them.

How can we overcome the frustrations and mysteries of life “under the sun”? How can we avoid what leads to an unsatisfied life? We can choose to approach life in a different way.

Here are a few suggestions based on Solomon’s previous conclusions and my own life experience. My wife and I have learned the value of these suggestions from our time in ministry in the US and overseas. These are decisions and choices we need to make each day.

  • Choose to trust God with your life and whatever is beyond your understanding (Prov 3:5–6).
  • Learn to be content with what God provides, whether it’s a little or a lot.
  • Choose to be humble and to do what is good and just (Micah 6:8).
  • Make people in your life more of a priority than things.
  • Live as simple a life as you can.
  • Do more listening than talking, be thankful rather than complaining, and encourage others instead of criticizing them.

This is an excerpt from Trip’s book, Glimmers of Light in the Darkness of Life

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

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