Once in a blue moon, I get asked to review a new publication here on Abandoned Cubicle. It’s a reasonable request since I get a free book out of the deal. If the book is decent, I get a few hours of entertainment. Even better when the entertainment is coupled with valuable life lessons. Happy Money by Ken Honda meets both criteria, I’m happy to say.
The full title of the book is Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money. The hardcover version I received clocks in at 211 pages and has a fetching yellow jacket that elicits happy vibes on its own merits.
About the Author of Happy Money: Ken Honda
Ken Honda is described on the book’s jacket as Japan’s Bestselling Zen Millionaire. That’s quite a description! You can’t help but wonder what the connection is between Zen and the accumulation of wealth.
The back sleeve of the jacket summarizes the author’s bio:
Ken Honda is a bestselling author of self-development books in Japan, where he has sold more than seven million books since 2001. While his financial expertise comes from owning and managing several businesses, his writings bridge the topics of finance and self-help, focusing on creating and generating personal wealth and happiness through deeper self-honesty. He is the first person from Japan to be voted into the Transformational Leadership Council. Fluent in Japanese and English, he has lived in Boston and currently resides in Tokyo.
Right off the bat, the book sets an appealing hook. Who wouldn’t want to make a lot of money AND find inner peace at the same time? I like to think that some of the purpose-driven themes of this blog align with Mr. Honda’s Happy Money premise. We can all find ways to make more money and save for retirement, but our relationship with money must be reconciled first.
Read Honda’s website bio page and you will find that he is the Mr. Money Mustache of Japan. He made a similar decision to retire before 30 to focus on raising his child. Remember that our author is from Japan. Retiring early to raise a family is a highly unorthodox concept for a nation still coming to terms with work-life balance.
Money as Energy
In Happy Money, Honda’s childhood memories reveal the origins of his “Money as Energy” philosophy. It’s a simple premise.
Honda grew up learning about wealth from his father, an accountant. As a boy, Honda served tea to his father’s clients. He observed that some of his father’s clients were in a constant state of agitation and worry over their finances (i.e., “unhappy money”). It didn’t matter that their financial situation was good or not. Inevitably, these agitated, worry-filled clients lost money.
In contrast, Honda’s father’s peaceful, zen clients would ultimately wind up wealthier. It seemed they had a deeper understanding of how money factored into their lives. Not as a game or a score to keep, but as a positive tool for supporting the things that mattered. There are several anecdotes and lessons throughout Happy Money that call back to this formative time in Honda’s life.
The discerning reader will wonder: is wealth the result of a calm and peaceful (or zen) approach to money? Does good fortune and wits lead to wealth, which fosters and enables a calm approach to money? These questions of causation lingered with me while I read through these pages the first time.
It was during his college years that Honda adopted the term “Happy Money”. A new acquaintance at a party took Honda’s wallet and started examining his cash. She used the words “Happy Money” to describe his cash. Very much like a palm-reader, I’d imagine.
This seems like such an odd cultural nuance. Here in the U.S., we are a bit more protective of our wallet contents.
At any rate, “Happy Money” stuck in the author’s brain as the key to achieving wealth through positive energy. If your money is happy, you are happy. If your money is unhappy, then you’re unhappy.
And since just about everything in life revolves around money in some form or fashion, we can make the cognitive leap: the key to a happy life starts with happy money.
Bits of Wisdom Woven Into Happy Money
One of Honda’s first major observations is that people who have more money aren’t necessarily smarter or working harder than those with less. He follows up this view with the idea that the rules of money constantly change. This is important advice.
Honda doesn’t use his pages to tell you what investments to make. There’s no push towards index funds, real estate, or hiding gold ingots under your mattress. But the lesson is clear: To obtain wealth with happy money, one has to constantly keep his or her head in the game.
Tax laws change. Investment strategies based on buyer trends and trade dynamics change. Vast fortunes have been won and lost in the “bottom of the ninth inning” of many peoples’ lives.
The author cleverly weaves together the concepts of FOMO (fear of missing out) and the myth of scarcity. We are always coveting someone else’s new car, amazing vacation, or back patio kitchen and pool. What used to be a matter of wistful innocent envy has turned into a kernel of depression for many, thanks to social media bombarding us with only the best of everyone else’s lives.
Compounding our FOMO with a scarcity mindset puts any notions of happy money out of sight. Honda shares what several other money gurus preach – those with an abundance mindset understand that money and wealth are not finite resources. As a crude example: consider that a new company does not rise to prominence at the expense of another (otherwise the stock market would be stuck at 1900 levels).
Living in the Present with Happy Money
A point later made in Honda’s collection of lessons and anecdotes is that we need to shed past failures and future worries. Only by focusing on the present, on the here-and-now, can we free our minds from the stress that keeps happiness out of reach.
The print on page 41 is clear: …money cannot buy happiness. Honda argues that by keeping money from dominating our lives we can be freed up to appreciate moments of happiness and contentment. But how do we put money in its right place?
How can we make our money “happy?” Again, Honda won’t tell you to pay off your mortgage or go after your student loans like a honey badger. Of course, many of you readers know that I will. Removing these worrisome debts frees your mind for other pursuits. Living small and learning skills for making more income accelerate the process while helping you focus on what’s important – people.
The book echos recent findings that an individual income of $75,000 per year is the optimal income for financial “happiness.” Anything you make over this amount offers marginal returns on your life satisfaction. We read about it all the time: The wealthy among us create unnecessary money stress by competing for the best mansions, the best plastic surgeons, the biggest yachts in the harbor, etc.
What Is Your Money EQ?
It’s one thing to have a strong money IQ. Sure, you know how to play the market or you’ve amassed an impressive real estate empire. But have you mastered money EQ? Strip away the mechanics of how to make money and focus on one’s behavior with his or her money.
In this section of the book, Honda deftly categorizes the personas typical of certain money EQs:
- The compulsive saver (extreme frugal types – typically children of divorce who view money with a scarcity mindset) We think of Mr. Money Mustache.
- The compulsive spender (spendthrifts who live for shopping malls) We think of American shoppers on Black Friday.
- The compulsive moneymaker (every minute of their life is consumed by making more money) We think Gordon Ramsey or Donald Trump.
There are some fun combinations too:
- The hoarder + spender (saves a lot only to spend it all in splurges) We think of the Gambler, by Kenny Rogers.
- The spender + moneymaking addict (makes a lot and spends a lot) We think of M.C. Hammer.
- The hoarder + spender + moneymaking addict (a cocktail of stress waiting to explode!) Walter White.
Then there are those money EQ archetypes who don’t want to be bothered at all by money!
- The indifferent to money type (money is simply a tool) We think of Jiro.
- The hippie or monk (money is bad or evil) We think of Bernie Sanders or Gandhi.
- The worrier (glass half empty types consumed by the risks their money or lack thereof poses) We think of Archie Bunker.
All of those examples are mine. I appreciate how Honda dissects our behavior with money. There are so many paths that can lead us astray. Finding balance is the key. As I read page after page I kept wondering if there was a single distilled secret to making peace with money.
Money as Energy That Is Flowing All Around Us
That’s a very Yoda-esque header that comes straight out of Chapter 4: The Flow of Money. Here’s where we get to the heart of the concept of Happy Money.
Honda wants us to take a physics approach to money. Consider that you can “charge” your money with positive energy. You can create more wealth and the rate at which you accumulate wealth with one simple tactic. This is where we suspend our common beliefs about money.
Here is the distilled secret to making peace with money. To produce happy money in abundance you need to imbue gratitude and appreciation into your life. That’s the key. Those two words: gratitude and appreciation, are supremely powerful.
Bring a positive attitude to the game of life. Show appreciation of others. Demonstrate gratitude. These behaviors will make you a money magnet. If you instead choose to sit in a corner, afraid of the world, with a scarcity mindset and fear of those who don’t share your beliefs, happy money (and happiness) will remain elusive.
If nothing else, Honda’s book encourages the reader to set aside limiting beliefs and apply gratitude and appreciation to all aspects of our lives. At first, this might seem a daunting task. Maybe your relationship with your spouse or kids is struggling. Maybe your boss or colleagues are difficult to get along with.
Let’s face it, showing gratitude after a long spell of sour interactions isn’t a walk in the park. But once you’ve made the first steps, the next several steps get easier. If your gestures aren’t fully appreciated in return, don’t worry. You’ve done your part. Feel content in THAT.
The Five Steps to Happy Money
I’ll finish this review with the five steps Ken Honda suggests we take to obtain happy money.
- Shift out of the scarcity mindset
- Forgive and heal your money wounds (let the past live in the past!)
- Discover your gifts and get into the flow of Happy Money
- Trust life (build trust in one another, shed FEAR)
- Say arigato (thank you) all the time
My confession: I struggled to fully embrace this book on the first read. It seems my head has been so focused on the money IQ side of the equation, that I found the concepts around money EQ (i.e., attitudes and behaviors surrounding money) hard to grasp. Summarizing this excellent book provided a break-through.
I would encourage you to pick up a copy of Happy Money. Dog-ear it, take notes in the margins and highlight as you absorb the lessons. This is a handsome addition to anyone’s bookshelf. I expect it will become a talisman for my personal growth.
Our work is cut out for us. There is an abundance of gratitude and appreciation to be had, but a scarcity of its expression.