Pleasure (Eccl 2:1-11)
Next he says to himself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself” (Eccl. 2:1). He acquires wealth, houses, gardens, alcohol, servants (slaves), jewelry, entertainment and ready access to sexual pleasure. “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10a).
Unlike with achievement, he finds some value in seeking pleasure. “My heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (Eccl. 2:10). His supposed achievements had turned out to be nothing new, but his pleasures at least were pleasurable. It seems that work undertaken as a means to an end — in this case, pleasure — is more satisfying than work undertaken as an obsession. Without necessarily taking “many concubines” (Eccl. 2:8), today’s workers might do well to take time to smell the roses, as the saying goes. If we have ceased to work towards a goal beyond work, if we can no longer enjoy the fruits of our labor, we have become slaves of work, rather than its masters.
Nonetheless, toiling merely in order to gain pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. This sections ends with the assessment that “again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11).