As a child, I remember my mother often saying, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure can help!” With a slight smirk on her face and spoken in Spanish, it all sounded so … cynical? El dinero no brinda la felicidad, pero contribuye. I’d cringe at the sound of those words.

Are we supposed to admit that our happiness is dependent upon money? Yuck!

Doesn’tIt all sounded so cynical it say in Ethics of Our Fathers, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot”?1 The irony is: I earned a degree in economics and later an MBA. Perhaps my formative years implanted within me a twisted fascination with money.

After years of financial independence from my parents, living as an observant Jew, helping my husband start his business, managing our household finances and more, I learned to appreciate the wisdom behind my mother’s financial mantra.

Economists have proven that happiness does not increase after reaching a certain income level. While studies differ on exactly where that “happiness” plateau falls—they all agree that after covering one’s basic needs, people’s indicators of happiness and well-being do not increase. In other words, these studies show that someone who earns $5,000,000 is not necessarily any happier than someone who earns enough to cover their needs.

Regardless of the science behind this, even anecdotally, we sense that acquiring more things and more experiences doesn’t necessarily yield greater happiness. Otherwise, Hollywood would be “happywood,” and we don’t have to look much farther than the grocery checkout line tabloids to see that this is hardly the case.

But the question is why? Why isn’t there a direct relationship between money and happiness? And this leads to the second, key part of my mother’s axiom: “ … but it sure can help!” What does that mean, and how does it shed light on the correlation, or lack thereof, between money and happiness?

Money and happiness seemingly exist on totally different planes. Money lives in the physical plane, while happiness lives in the spiritual realm. One is bound by the finite, in the world of the here and now; the other exists in the infinity of our eternal souls. Thus, as the studies show, there’s little correlation between the two. Still, there could be some connection. Could it be that both money and happiness do co-exist? How could one “help” the other, as my mother espoused?

The continuation of the above-mentioned Mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers sheds light:

“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2). “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come.

WhenMoney and happiness seemingly exist on totally different planes we define our values in alignment with our holy Torah, we are designing a life that is a lot more than just physical and finite. We’re laboring to live a spiritual life. We’ve designed our life to transcend our physical existence and to leave a mark in the world even when we’re not physically present in it. When we utilize money to live a life of eternal values, money can (and does) contribute to happiness, as my mother suggests. For this physical entity— money—has now taken on a spiritual dimension.

Shoes or vacations are worth nothing if our children are distant from their spiritual roots and their families, or if we don’t build homes where peace permeates. Money can’t buy any of this for us. However, money can facilitate true spiritual happiness when we invest in the things we truly value: in our children’s Jewish education, in our marriage, in hospitality, in helping the sick, in charity, in improving our communities.

Using our money to finance a life that honors the values prescribed by Torah can yield happiness, for it brings harmony between our physical drives and our spiritual lives. Money itself can’t bring this about; the way that we utilize it does.

So while money can’t buy happiness, when utilized in the way G‑d prescribes, it certainly helps! Mother knows best after all.