After Solomon observes the condition of the world, he returns to the recounting of his quest. In pride, he examines himself and concludes that he is more wise than any who have come before him (1:16). This scene is remeniscent of Nebuchadnezzar's prideful declaration that he had built Babylon the great with his own strength (Dan. 4:29-30). That statement preceded a great fall that eventually brought brokeness and humility. The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar involved him living life in madness as an animal. Interestingly, Solomon's experience would be somewhat similar and would bring humility and a turning towards God.
Solomon tells us that he decided to pursue both wise and foolish living (1:17). This verse is really a summary of all that is to follow in the book as he will go on to describe each of these pursuits in detail as well as the lessons he learned along the way. His ultimate conclusion is again repeated, all of his efforts were akin to attempting to catch the wind. The chapter itself concludes with a terribly sad but true statement.
"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was meant for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not mean that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."
Solomon mistakenly believed that he could find enjoyment and satisfaction through the various pursuits of life. He learns the hard way that the world is a broken place that cannot be enjoyed or truly experienced apart from knowing the one who made it.
I heard a preacher say it this way: Life is like a can of peaches. It can be sweet, delicious, and enjoyable as long as you can get to it. You can look at the picture on the outside and imagine the taste, but without a can opener you can't truly experience the peaches. Life is like a can of peaches, but apart from God giving us the ability to enjoy it, we will only experience a shadow of what it could be. Solomon came to the conclusion that he had to acknowledge God to find meaning and purpose but took the long, hard road to make that discovery.
May we look to the Lord as the one who gives our lives meaning and may we in turn enjoy the work of our hands that He has placed before us.