When my husband passed away years ago, I had to take on many tasks I’d never faced before, but few were as daunting as buying a new car. Everything car-related had been his domain, and whenever we needed a new one, he took care of it. To me, cars are merely “appliances-on-wheels,” albeit very expensive ones. If they reliably got me from one place to another, that’s all that mattered.

When the time came for me to replace my old car,I told myself it was just like buying a new washing machine I had to muster my courage. I told myself it was just like buying a new washing machine. I decided how much I could spend, transferred that amount into my checking account from savings, prioritized the features I needed and drove over to the nearest car store to pick one out.

I entered the showroom, and as luck would have it, the first car I saw had everything I wanted. Four doors, a roomy back seat, it was easy to get in and out of, and had a good-sized trunk. And even a sticker price within my budget. I asked the salesman what I thought was a savvy consumer question: “Is this a good car?”

I followed up with another probing question: “Do people like this car?” I finished with: “Can I leave my old, beat-up car here when I leave?”

The salesman nodded yes to each question. And that settled it. “I’ll take it!” I exclaimed, pulling out my checkbook. Golly, this really was at least as easy as buying a washing machine. I was so excited and happy I could burst!

I drove my new car home and started calling my friends to share my excitement. But on one call after the other, I was admonished that I’d paid too much, that I hadn’t shopped around, that I hadn’t investigated leasing or financing, hadn’t tried to sell my old, barely running car, and hadn’t looked at all the bells and whistles and paint-color choices. Apparently, I’d done everything wrong! With every call, my excitement fizzled a little more. The new car that I’d loved became something I didn’t even want to look at. It was nothing but a big, four-door, overpriced mistake sitting in my garage.

The next day, I shared my regretful experience with another friend. I waited for the inevitable scolding about how I’d done everything wrong. This time, however, the response was totally different. She said, “Mazel tov! How fortunate you are! You needed a car, and you were able to avoid all the haggling, all the schlepping from one dealer to another, all the credit hassles. You were blessed with the means to walk into a showroom, pick out something you like, pay for it in full without haggling and drive it home! Mazel tov on the new car and on the aggravation-free experience you were able to have!”

In hindsight, I don’t know if my friend really believed that, or if she, like everyone else, thought I was the worst shopper ever. What I do know is that her words completely changed how I felt. It was the same car, the same money spent, the same experience. But instead of viewing myself as the foolish victim of my own ignorance, I saw myself as blessed with the means to get exactly what I wanted, with no delays, no hassles and no compromises.

What is it about us that makes us want to fix other people? To lecture them on their mistakes? To teach them how to do things the right way (i.e., our way)? To weigh in on their choices? When they tell us they went to our favorite restaurant and ordered chicken, we tell them, no, you should have ordered fish. When they tell us about their great cruise to the Caribbean, we tell them an Alaskan cruise would have been better. When they tell us about the new computer they bought on sale, we tell them another store sells it even cheaper. We think we’re helping them with all this free, after-the-fact advice. But we’re really transforming their happy experiences into regrets.

Jewish history is filled with tragic events. AndWhat is it about us that makes us want to fix other people? yet, I’d wager that the Hebrew words most familiar to both Jews and non-Jews are “Mazel tov!” Words of joy, words of celebration. We squeeze every drop of happiness out of life and amplify it by sharing it with others and having them bounce it back to us.

In fact, this concept of emphasizing the positive and joyful is mentioned clearly in Talmud. The school of Hillel states that when someone gets married, you should tell the groom that his bride is “beautiful and gracious.”

The School of Shammai asked the School of Hillel: “If a bride limps or is blind, should we praise her as being ‘beautiful and gracious’? Has not the Torah told us, ‘Keep your distance from falsehood?’ ”1

The School of Hillel responded: “When a person buys an inferior article in the market, should we praise it in his presence or should one find fault with it in his presence? It appears to us that one should praise it for him.”

The Rebbe explains that the School of Hillel was not stating that one should lie and praise a bride with qualities which she did not possess. Their perspective is that every groom surely considers his bride as “beautiful and gracious.” And if a person wants to make a friend feel gratified by praising his bride, the person offering the praise should be patient enough to think over the matter carefully until he appreciates the qualities that cause her groom to see her as “beautiful and gracious.” The School of Hillel urges us to extend ourselves by taking a more detailed look at the situation at hand and finding the perspective of the other.

I’ve been driving my car for several years now, and I still like it. I’ve forgotten how much it cost. And, yes, if I ever need to buy another, I’ll bring someone more experienced with me. But thanks to that friend, I don’t look back on my experience with regret.

I learned a valuable lesson from my experience of paying too much and consider it a blessing. I learned not to offer “friendly advice” after the fact. I learned not to burst other people’s joyful bubble. I wish them a hearty “Mazel Tov!” and share their contentment. And then go for a nice, long drive.