I’ve heard it my whole life every 365 days: “Happy New Year.” For many it summarizes the goal and purpose of life—happiness. “Happiness is the truth,” croons Pharrell Williams. And caught up in the catchy tune and rhythmic beat we bob our heads in agreement. But is happiness the true purpose of life?

If it is then it stands to reason that pain is bad; there is nothing good which can come from it. Philosophically we have been hoodwinked into embracing hedonism.

Hedonism is the belief that a person’s chief reason for living is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But many of life’s most valuable lessons are learned through hardships and loss, pain and suffering, trials and discipline. In other words, the deepest type of character development happens in the deepest valleys of pain. In pleasure we feel in control, in pain we feel out of control and it is in those times that we are forced to exercise faith the most.

And some people will avoid those opportunities at all cost. They do not value the lessons that hardship teach. Very often these people will do the same for their children. One of the most difficult parenting skills is the skill of butting out, the brutal gut-wrenching choice to not rescue your children from hardships. To allow them to struggle and in that way allow them and their faith to mature.

Greatness is born from pain. Great athletes, great artists, great musicians are forged and shaped by the hardships that they self-impose in order to grow. A pain-free pursuit stunts our growth as people. Without pain we shrink as a species.

But in a country where happiness is our true pursuit, we create laws which allow us to take our lives when we feel that we will be too unhappy to carry on. We approve “recreational drugs” so we can take mental holidays and escape the painful realities of living our lives. We create ever more sophisticated gadgets and technologies that we harness to pursue our own, private, virtual happiness: porn use spiked after Christmas, when people opened their 3D goggles.

At what cost is our pursuit of happiness? Might our pursuit of happiness actually be the rancid fruit of decay, the beginning of the crumbling foundation of what made the luxury of pursuing happiness possible in the first place?

And so I do not wish you a happy New Year. I wish for you a year full of contented joy, secure in the knowledge that God remains sovereign, has His eye upon you and walks with you even through dark valleys where He oversees your development, maturity and nurture.

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