In chapter 2 of Megillat Kohelet, King Shlomo writes, “Leschok amarti mehalel u’lesimcha mah zeh oseh“-I said, what good is laughter, it is only frivolity and what does joy achieve? This verse seems strange. Don’t we all want happiness? What King Shlomo meant to say was that joy should not be an end in itself. Man’s goal should be to live a life filled with meaning, depth, and purpose. Happiness should come as a byproduct. Joy and laughter only gives you a moment where you can escape from yourself. In contrast, living a life that is productive, in which one works towards authentic achievements and real connection will naturally produce inner serenity and eternal joy.
Tzadikim live joyful lives but their happiness is a consequence of their choices. It is not a lifestyle. To put this in simpler terms, imagine getting a sentence from the court-“Eight years of watching Bugs Bunny”. That would be horrific.
One would think when reading Kohelet that the author, King Shlomo, did not want us to be happy, only earnest. This is not true. He wanted us to be joyous. However he did warn us not to grasp onto tinsel and think it to be gold. Recognizing reality and working towards lasting goals will in turn lead to true eternal happiness.