I have always heard that money cannot buy happiness. I have said it myself countless times. But I have to confess, I always felt like a liar when I said it. I looked at what I considered rich people and saw that they are as messed up as the rest of us—sometimes it seems even more so. But even knowing this, I always felt jealous of them—no matter how much I tried to talk myself out of it.

I know someone who is very wealthy. But it certainly hasn’t helped her happiness in life. Several of her most important relationships are extremely strained or even no longer friendly. That’s nothing I’m jealous of. I also have a dear friend who is very happy and never has “enough” money. She struggles financially from time to time, but it doesn’t bother her. I am jealous of her (not her life—but the way she is).

But underneath that rational part of my thinking there was always a strong feeling that if I had more money I would be happier. I felt that if I had the money, I would have security and serenity—I would not always be worried about it. I also wanted to protect my kids—and I felt that if they had a big fat trust fund, that would help. Even though I knew families with big fat trust funds for their kids, and those kids were a mess. I confess that my sense of happiness was connected to money.

I have always felt unsettled and incomplete about this. It never felt exactly right, like there was something I wasn’t seeing clearly, but I couldn’t stop myself from worrying about it. Look, I’m talking about money because this is one of my Achilles’ heels. But feel free to substitute your own: weight, love life, food habits, kids, career success, etc.—anything that you feel is tied up with your happiness.

I had this real epiphany in the wee hours of the morning, half asleep and half awake: Money is money and happy is happy. They are two different things.

Money and happiness were inextricably linked—not in reality, but in my thinking. In reality, they are separate. I am not saying that they are not sometimes related. It’s just that they are different. This is very profound for me.

I know rich unhappy people. I know happy people who are just getting by. I know rich people who are cheap. I know people of modest means who are very generous. To some people, downsizing is freedom. Others experience it as shame: a sign of being poor or not having enough.

The times I have felt the happiest had nothing to do with money—they had to do with love and gratitude and appreciation. They are the times when I feel my closeness to my Creator—and money doesn’t live in that reality. Of course, I need money to pay my bills, and do things in the physical realm. It’s just that that is not where happiness lives. Happiness lives in a different realm; not a physical one, but an experiential-spiritual one.

Look at how our thinking confuses things for us. It is not the circumstances of our lives that determine our experience. It is how we think about our circumstances that determines our experience of life. It is how we judge them, and what story we tell ourselves about those circumstances.

You can have money and be happy or sad.

You can be happy or sad and not have money.

It is hard to explain how freeing this was for me. The two things can be connected, but they are not cause and effect. In that moment I understood deeply that I can be okay regardless of how much money I have—or don’t have.

My money is not the same as my well-being. Money is money and happy is happy.

By Jewel Safren, LCSW

 Jewel Safren MSW, LSW, LCSW has over 35 years of experience in counseling, life coaching and public-speaking coaching. She has worked with people all over the US and in Europe, and runs popular personal growth workshops, webinars and classes. She is recommended by Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz; Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, B.Ed, M.Sci.; Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn; and Rabbi Mordechai Becher. She lives in West Orange, NJ, with her hubby and two kids, and has two married kids and two grandsons living in California. You can contact Jewel at 973-464-8556 or, if you would like to be on her mailing list or for more information, email her at jewelsafrenlcsw@gmail.com.