I live in Los Angeles, where wealth, celebrity, youth and beauty are valued above all else. Paparazzi document the rich and famous shopping on Rodeo Drive, star map tours are sold to eager tourists who gawk at $20 million homes, and the offices of plastic surgeons are filled with men and women hoping to retain their good looks.

I know, rationally, that many celebrities are good people, and just happened to stumble into fame because they were good atBeing rich is not a bad thing their craft. Being rich is not a bad thing, especially if you use your money to support your family and give back to society. People want to feel good about themselves, so they try to maintain and improve their physical appearances.

However, if you don’t have something to ground you in reality, you can become obsessed with the material things in life. If you have no ultimate truth, then your values can fluctuate based on society’s and other people’s viewpoints.

In the L.A. culture—and, I’d argue, in American culture at large—having money, getting famous, and looking young and beautiful are top priorities. You think that if you just had all those things, your life would be flawless, and you would be happy. As you dream about this, though, you’re actually hurting yourself. For many people, they are simply unattainable and unrealistic.

Before I converted to Judaism, I was an atheist. I had no concrete set of values, and I would often give in to jealousy. I used to look at my peers with rich parents and be envious of them. How come they got a free ride to college and didn’t have to work like I did? Why did they get a nice car? How did they have such a big house? I wanted a big house.

I obsessed over these things. I thought that if I just focused on work and nothing else, then I could get to where they were. I could be rich. I could be famous. I could live in a fancy house and not have to worry.

After graduating from college, I tried working a day job in television. It paid well, had a cool job title that I could brag about, and the offices were located in midtown Manhattan. From the outside, it looked like I was living the life.

But behind all that glamour, I was miserable. I felt big when I told my friends and family I worked in New York City in television, but I wasn’t satisfied. Most days, I’d have to force myself out of bed and onto the crowded subway, and then sit at a computer for eight hours doing practically nothing. My only solace was the lounge in the bathroom, where I could escape from my coworkers or the vending machine, which was filled with sugary snacks that distracted me from my unhappiness.

If I could just stand this job, I could move up to being an associate producer, then an executive, and maybe even own a television network one day. But I wasn’t willing to put in the work to achieve my dreams of being on TV and making tons of money. That goal sounded nice, but the effort to get there was not. And who knows? Maybe even when I fulfilled my dreams, I wouldn’t be happy either. Who could say?

At the same time that I was working this job, I was converting to Judaism and studying and taking on the laws. I was gaining real meaning in my life, along with values and a path that I could follow.

Instead of attending happy hours with my coworkers on Friday evenings, I began to go to my boyfriend’s family’s house for Shabbat dinner. It felt like stepping out into the hot sun after being in the freezing cold ocean. My soul was getting warmed up under the light of G‑d.

As I learned Torah and took on additional mitzvahs, I shifted my focus even more. When I decided to stop checking my cell phone on Shabbat, I did it because I realized that it was more important to take a break from work than to look at my e‑mail. No e‑mail was ever going to be so crucial that I had to break the Sabbath—and my peace—in order to see it.

I realized that I couldn’t just work to make money. I learned that saving money and having money is important, but so is giving back. If I see a homeless person begging at a stoplight, I usually try to roll down my window and give him or her some spare change. Sure, every penny counts, and if I don’t save it all, I might never get out of debt. But I believe it’s better to share my wealth and spread it, even in the tiniest ways possible.

In terms of looks, I used to wish I could be model-thin and always have on the best clothes, makeup and jewelry. I’ve met many beautiful people out here in L.A., including models and famous actors. These are usually not the most memorable people. They may look good, but they don’t leave an impression on me. The people I now regard as beautiful are the men and women who are kind and welcoming, and devoted to their families and their values. These are the individuals I hope to emulate.

People always say that you can’t take your moneyAll you can take with you are your good deeds with you when you die. Well, you can’t take your beauty or your fame, either. All you can take with you are your good deeds. It’s sad if you realize only on your deathbed that you put the wrong things on a pedestal.

What matters most to me now is having and giving love, being kind to others, fulfilling my purpose through my writing, making the world a better place through observing mitzvahs and giving charity, spending time with loved ones and making sure that I have a close relationship with G‑d.

I’m not perfect, but I know what is right and what is wrong, and what I should be doing to work towards my goals. And I no longer trick myself into thinking that the material things are going to make me happy. They’re nice, but they’re not everything.

By prioritizing my values, I’ve found that I can be truly happy.