Most of us are uncomfortable talking about our money. I know I usually am. After all, few of us think we have all we could ever need—even the super wealthy. And if we are lucky enough to feel fairly comfortable about it, we don’t usually bring it up because we don’t want to appear insensitive to those who have less. Or maybe worse, we don’t want to jinx what we have. But, is it possible that how we feel about money is directly related to how we feel about life in general and ourselves in particular? In other words, is our relationship to our money happy, affectionate and at peace? Or is it sad, fearful and distrustful? Getting to the heart of those questions is the focus of a new book by Ken Honda titled, Happy Money—The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money. And some of his perspectives may surprise you.
I’ll admit that this isn’t a book I would normally buy in a bookstore. My days of wealth seeking for the sake of easy money are far past me. And while I’m normally all for happiness, the title Happy Money seemed a little too flippant even to me. But something about the book jacket blurb made me agree to take a look at it for a review. And I’m glad I did, because once I started reading, I realized that Honda intends to offer an alternative to the seriousness, the fears, and mystique that money usually holds for most people. According to Honda, money can be happy, or it can be deeply unhappy—and discovering how we feel about is key to creating a happier life experience in the future.
What is the difference between happy money and unhappy money? If you think about it, it isn’t difficult to imagine. Any money that you have or earn that comes to you for doing something you love is happy money. Money that sparks your creativity and passion is usually happy. Money spent paying for things that bring you or the people you love joy, excitement and contentment is happy money. Money you give or spend to help others or create a better world is happy money.
On the flipside, any money you earn at a job you dislike or with people you don’t admire is usually unhappy money. Any money you use to begrudgingly use to pay your rent, bills or taxes is unhappy money. Any time you make or spend money in frustration, sadness, anger or resentment is unhappy money. The problem is that most of us aren’t aware of the difference. And as Honda says, “…most people, whether they realize it or not, are already in a deeply committed, unhappy relationship with their money.”
So why does it matter? Again, according to Honda, “…where there is Unhappy Money, there are unhappy people.” The good news is that if you are able to feel positive about your current money relationship, then chances are good that you experience happiness and peace of mind on a regular basis. And in case you are wondering, Honda isn’t all about just getting rich. He says, “…it doesn’t matter how much you have or make. It is your feelings about money that determines your wealth. If you don’t have a healthy attitude and feel negative about money, then no amount of money in the bank is going to change your relationship with and how you feel about money.”
Besides the idea that money is an energy that we direct in our lives—either in positive or negative ways—he also believes a big problem in our culture is a belief in a scarcity mentality. He quotes author Lynne Twist (who I’ve also written about myself) as a woman who teaches the downsides to the scarcity mindset. What is a scarcity mindset? Honda says, “The scarcity mind-set is a belief that there are limited resources in the world, and if we don’t get what we want, when we want it, someone else will.” It leads to greed, fear and jealousy and a constant striving to get ours before someone else takes it away. It asks us to take jobs we hate just to pay bills. It also fuels an addiction to buying things we don’t really need and overconsumption. Underneath it all is a belief that there isn’t enough in the world to go around—enough money, enough happiness, enough good, enough anything—so we must battle to get ours any way we can—and even hoard it when possible. At the core of that belief is that we ourselves are not “enough” as well.
So how do we get past this scarcity fear of not having or being enough? The simple answer is to practice gratitude—every day, all the time. In fact, that simple practice is behind most of Honda’s suggestions to create happy money. Honda credits his mentor Wahei Takeda. as someone who taught him this important ingredient to happy money. Takeda, a former billionaire in Japan, taught others that a key to wealth and happiness is saying “Arigato”, or thank you in Japanese, for absolutely everything, over and over again. That constant gratitude mindset combined with an inner soul connection is a definite path to overcoming any feelings of scarcity or not-enoughness in your life.
While Honda does offer many practical approaches to creating a happy money awareness, he does repeat himself quite a bit in a mostly motivational manner. But I did appreciate his many references to the idea that it isn’t the amount of money you make or have so much as it is arriving at a place in your mind where you feel secure, happy and content. In many ways he refers to us each finding a positive “money relationship” that fits our life and personality, just like rightsizing. He says, “If you can find happiness in your own unique lifestyle, that is the sign that you’re moving out of the money game. There are no right answers. You can find your state of happiness in simplicity and minimalism. Or if making a lot of money and creating a big flow is your preference, go for it. Only you can say what is right for you.”
Surprisingly, and at the same time, Honda also acknowledges that there are big changes happening in the world today. He acknowledges climate change and the almost daily advances in technology and where that might lead. He admits that these shifts can be looked at either optimistically or pessimistically and that, “We really do have the power to choose how we will enter into the future.” Being of service and helping others as much as possible is all part of creating happy money and is key to finding abundance within our self. He also suggests that we focus on creating deep and lasting connections with others, and find our sense of security in other people rather than money.
While I still find it a bit strange to think of my money as happy or sad, there might be something to it. At one point Honda even asks: If you pulled out the money in your wallet would it be smiling or crying? But I have to admit that this book reminded me to be grateful for what I have, to realize that the people and experiences in my life are my real wealth, and that I get to choose what and where I want to head in the future. And Honda reminds us that regardless of the circumstances you find yourself, it’s SMART to know that, “You can start over every day.”
Misty Summers says
A friend of mine just started working with a man named Ken Honda! His new book is called Happy Money. He talks a lot about how you view money and the energy you place on it. I set my intent to change my relationship to money years ago! I has been magical watching my life unfold around wealth.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Misty! You did read this blog post didn’t you? It is all about Ken Honda’s book and like you said, it can help transform your relationship to money. ~Kathy
Dr Sock says
Money is something that I have to admit I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about. For example, I’ve never really told anyone other than my husband what I earned at each different job, not even my kids. I have experienced a range of financial states throughout my life, from living below the poverty line during my student years, to being comfortably well off. Although I never foregrounded making money as a personal goal, instead choosing my career based on what interested me, I educated myself in financial literacy so that I could manage my money sensibly rather than squandering it. Also, from my early experience of poverty, I learned that money isn’t completely unimportant. You have to have enough to live on. But, the big question for most people is, what is “enough?” Most of my life I felt that I had enough, even when I had very little, but there certainly were a few times that I felt money stress (no money left to pay the rent or buy groceries). And I admit that it is a nice feeling to be able to pick up the tab for a dinner out with friends without having to worry about where the money’s coming from. But mostly I have quite frugal habits.
I really like this perspective of money and totally agree. Another insightful post, Kathy. I think we have figured out the “happy money” concept, even if we’re barely making any. We live our life to its fullest and money is a very small part of that (well, making it is, not thinking about it :-). Mark and I belong in the category “You can find your state of happiness in simplicity and minimalism.” And, since we don’t make much money, what we have is always smiling at us. And, because we don’t spend much money – only on things that we need – it is still smiling, because it is beneficial to our lifestyle.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Liesbet! Thank you for checking in on this idea. When I read some of his remarks about being happy and fulfilled by keeping things simple and sustainable I thought of you and Mark as a wonderful example of that. He is very clear that the path to happiness and peace of mind is NOT how much money you have or even the things you own–it is the energy and peace of mind you carry inside you. Keep up the good example. The world needs more of that! ~Kathy
What an interesting perspective on money. I have never thought of money as smiling or crying. I know that I have limiting beliefs about money and that I haven’t spent a lot of time with those thoughts. It is something I could definitely explore in more depth. I grew up very poor, and many of beliefs come from a place of worrying about where we would get money to eat or pay the bills. There is a lot of guilt and shame around money and it is also wrapped around our identity and sense of self-worth. Lots of interesting things to ponder and something I will likely explore more.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Michele! For those of us who love to try to figure out why we do what we do–and think how we think–I think you’d enjoy this book. It gave me new ways of relating to money that I’d never thought about before. Like I mentioned in another comment, it talks about many of the patterns we formed from our parents and even grandparents and how that evolved into us today. He also goes into all the different thoughts people typically hold about money and how, with awareness, we can begin to break those down and channel them into a more positive perspective if we choose. While he admits that it is important to learn good money management (he calls that good money IQ), he believes it is equally important to have good money E-Q (emotional awareness of money) as well. Plenty to think about for sure. If you get the book, let me know what you thought of it. ~Kathy
Kathy, the phrase that stood out for me was “arriving at a place in your mind where you feel secure, happy and content.” I believe I have finally achieved that, especially in regards to the money. When I first retired, I had the “bag lady”worry… you know that one. The “I’ll loose all my money and end up being a bag lady”. I worried about spending money, any money. It was definitely in the unhappy space. Now, I’m more content and realize all the time I spent in delayed gratification needs to be over. Today is someday and I need to enjoy each day – grateful for the financial security all that delayed gratification has given me. The word content has popped up multiple times this week…. and it really does describe where I am at in life. Thanks for sharing your take on this new book!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! It’s so nice to hear that you’ve found your “happy money place” by feeling content. I do believe it is worth our time and attention to really think about how we feel about money because when you think about it–it really does touch and affect so much of our lives. I’ve also known other people, particularly women for sure, who have that “bag lady perspective” so it’s good you’ve overcome that. When I went back and analyzed my own “money beliefs” I realized that one reason I never had that particular fear was because I was taught that I could always find and earn what I needed to survive. Unfortunately I had other beliefs like, I had to work hard and that money doesn’t grow on trees…etc. etc. so it was interesting to figure that out and see what, if any of those old “tapes” were still playing. I really liked it when Honda says, “We think our fears are about money, but in reality it is the future and change we are afraid of.” It sounds to me like you’ve gotten past that too! Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Tom at Sightings says
Funny. For most of my adult life I was saving and accumulating money, “getting rich slowly” as it were. And I never seemed to be particularly happy about it. But now I’m in retirement and I’m “getting poor slowly,” and I seem to be enjoying the experience a lot more.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! Honda actually recommends the “slow path” to getting money as far better than any get-rich-quick scheme. Although he is BIG on doing what you can to make it happy money–for example, if you can’t find a reason to make your job a fulfilling path to income, then you are definitely in the wrong line of work. He believes the pressure that so many of us have to get a job based upon how much it pays rather than how it creates meaning and purpose in our lives is how so many of us go wrong. But now you are retired it seems like you have figured out a way to have a more happy and loving relationship to money…even if it seems like you are “getting poor slowly” it is all about the sense of peace you have that makes you enjoy it all the more. Thanks for sharing that perspective. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I am in the middle of reading “The Path made clear”, Oprah’s latest book. I will likely reread this book. Many gems from many people. I just finished reading an excerpt from Lynne Twist and the scarcity mentality, limited resources, it is never enough. I don’t know whether credit cards have played into this mentality and the urgent need to purchase immediately, and overextend. You are likely familiar with Suze Orman. Many moons ago I recall her talking about how you place your money in your purse, wallet, pocket is indicative of your relationship with money. Whether the bills are stuffed into your purse, or whether you flatten and line them up carefully. I am very much with you, Kathy, that the people in our life and our experience are our true wealth. Another thought-provoking post:) Erica
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Erica! I hadn’t heard of Oprah’s new book yet. Will you be doing a review on your website? I hope so because it sounds like something that I would be interested in hearing about–especially if it has a section on Lynne Twist. I’m not sure about the credit card issue, and Honda doesn’t really say anything about that compulsion, but he does believe we should live within our means and NEVER over-consume blindly. I hadn’t heard that bit about Suze Orman and the money in your wallet but that makes sense after reading Honda’s book. Lots of little tips like that in the book that have got me thinking all week long about how I view money and what it means in my life. Glad you liked the post. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I have not considered writing a review of this book. Every single page has at least one gem. My book review could turn into a book?I think I have read all of her books and most of the books she has recommended. “The path made clear” is one of her best books. She has compiled many quotes and interviews from other inspirational people:) Erica.
Hi, Kathy – When I read your summary of “unhappy money,” I couldn’t help but think of a dog who resources guards. If you’ve ever seen in action, it ain’t pretty!
There are lots of pearls of wisdom in this post. I especially liked your closing point — regardless of our present circumstances, we can choose to start again today!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Thanks. I was pleasantly surprised at his honest but optimistic view of the future. (Of course any of you who know me are probably not surprised!) He also offers several reminders that even when you have money, there are always cycles where sometimes you have more, and sometimes less. The trick is not to panic or let fear take over your thoughts for the future. And yes, no matter what, we can always start again. ~Kathy
Gary Lange says
I actually seldom think about money. Fortunately I don’t manage my money and I am sure that helps. I focus on other things like health and helping people. I love your posts–Thanks.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Gary! Honda confirms that a focus on health and helping others is excellent. But he does make a good argument for feeling like money is your friend as well. He asks, ” do you have a loving relationship with your money?” He then goes on to make the point that, “To love is to have no fear that something will harm or leave you. It requires that your trust and belief that whoever is the object of your love will always be there.” Then he adds, “Fear looks, sounds and feels like control. Love, on the other hand, feels the opposite. It is unconditional acceptance.” I think when you think about money and a loving relationship with it, it really opens the door to a new idea (at least for me.) What do you think? ~Kathy
What an interesting concept. I’m not sure I’ve ever had “unhappy money” but I do know that my relationship to money has changed in retirement. I am no longer focused on acquiring (and saving) for future dreams… the future is here. My focus now is more on trying to enjoy what I have while continuing to save for some unknown future (healthcare-related) calamity.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! I sure never thought of my money as unhappy, but after analyzing some of my more limiting beliefs about money (that I was mainly raised with) I realized that many of the limitations were just beliefs about money that my parents had…not necessary the truth. And certainly not true now that I’ve changed them so much through the years. I also very much appreciated his perspective on fear and any potential “calamity”. While (more) money might give us the illusion that we can avoid or overcome any potential problem, more than anything (according to Honda) it is our mindset to those problems that provide the most (or the least) security that any of us can have. I find that seeking out people who model that awareness is a good way to feel more at peace about the future. AND from what I can see from reading your blog, you know how to enjoy your happy money very well! ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
I think I’ve come a long way in my attitude about money. I used to have a scarcity mindset because, frankly, money WAS scarce and my first husband was forever losing jobs and still spending like he was working. It took me many years (after ditching Hubs #1 and Hubs #2’s demise) to come to a place where I realized the wolf was no longer at the door.
Now I am so grateful for what I have and I feel SO RICH, although by most people’s standards I am “comfortable”.
I’m going to look for Mr. Honda’s book at my library. I think I’ve already internalized a lot of what he has to say but it never hurts to get a refresher.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Deb! Good for you for learning what you needed to learn from those first two husbands. And it does seem that when money appears scarce that it is because there is only limited resources available. But I appreciate how Honda spends a chapter or two asking us to each analyze how we came to believe those “scarcity messages” about money and life from both our parents AND other ancestors. Thom and I talked over what we ourselves had been taught about money and it was illuminating. No wonder we started out struggling with such beliefs…Of course, Honda is also clear that our parents and others are just doing the best they can and likely operating out of their own limited beliefs. If you do get a copy of the book I would love to hear what you thought of his ideas. ~Kathy
I like this concept Kathy. Very unique and totally makes sense. I love happy money but sometimes I have had to wade through unhappy money to get to the happy ones.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! It is a different way of thinking about money isn’t it? Of course, if Honda is correct, then finding a way to get away from that unhappy money altogether is key. He is a big advocate of changing our minds (which usually lead to change actions) to get where we want to go. And if happy money is our goal, then it starts with changing our minds. ~Kathy
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au says
A really interesting concept Kathy – it’s interesting that you’re writing about this because my husband had me realize that part of the struggle I’ve had with leaving work is that I evaluate my worth in part with how much I earn and bring to family. To separate my identity from $$ has been so liberating and I definitely agree that we need to find our own contentment and not base it on the world’s materialism and keeping up with the Joneses.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leanne! I think many of us were raised believing our worth is (like you said at least in part) is tied to how much income we make. And I don’t know about you, but when I consciously think about it that makes me sad. While I do believe that we all have something to contribute to the world and each other, that often has absolutely nothing to do with what generates money. The way I understand what Honda is sharing is that when we get in the flow of offering our gifts to each other, the money in our life will be happy and for the most part be what we need to create a happy life. Hopefully that will be what we really need to “find our contentment.” Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Diane Dahli says
A new slant on thinking about money…actually a lot of what he says is the repetition of the teachings in “The Secret”. Giving human characteristics to inanimate objects seems to be a trend—think Marie Kondo and “does it spark joy?” I’m just kidding, Kathy! It does seem to be an interesting book, with a fresh twist! I especially noted his mention of the ‘scarcity mindset’, since that is something I tried to change in my own view of wealth many years ago. For the most part it worked, but I do feel myself slipping back into fear of the future from time to time.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Diane! You’re right. Honda freely admits that he is hoping to be the Marie Kondo of money. He also admits to being a fan of Law of Attraction and other New Thought ideas. Like I mentioned, I was nervous that his approach would be just another get rich quick perspective but was delighted to learn that he is actually more balanced and altruistic than many of those I had read in the past. While he does agree that we all need enough to feed ourselves and our families and provide the basics, once that is achieved then the amount of happiness, satisfaction and peace of mind we receive is very much a mental process. While I think money and all that it stands for will continue to be a “hot topic” in the years to come, I hope that when it does it has this more balanced approach included. And anything that helps to remind me (and it sounds like you as well) that we have a choice about how to view our future is a good thing IMHO! ~Kathy