One Sunday a preacher told how, while sitting in his garden, he had watched a caterpillar climb a painted stick that was for decoration. After reaching the top, the caterpillar reared itself, feeling this way and that for a juicy twig to feed on, or some way to further progress. Finding nothing, it slowly returned to the ground, crawled along till it reached another painted stick, and did the same thing all over again. The preacher said: "There are many painted sticks in the world-those of pleasure, wealth, and fame. All these call man and say, 'Climb me to find the desire of your heart, fulfill the purpose of your existence, taste the fruit of success, and find satisfaction, but they are only painted sticks.'"
Solomon tried to find the purpose of his life in the world's "painted sticks." He gave his heart to seek wisdom, but learned that it was "vanity and vexation of spirit" (Ecc_1:15).
He then turned to the pleasures of the world for meaning in life. He built great houses, and gardens, and pools. He had servants and maidens; in fact, he had all that a man could desire. Solomon's comment on pleasure as a true source of happiness, however, was, "All was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecc_2:11).
After trying all that the world could offer, Solomon's final decision was, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecc_12:13).