Money and happiness expert Ken Honda is a best-selling self-development author in Japan whose book sales have surpassed seven million copies since 2001. His latest book is entitled Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money. Ken studied law at Waseda University in Tokyo and entered the Japanese workforce as a business consultant and investor. Ken’s financial expertise comes from owning and managing several businesses, including an accounting company, a management consulting firm, and a venture capital corporation. His writings bridge the topics of finance and self-help, focusing on creating and generating personal wealth and happiness through deeper self-honesty. Ken provides ongoing support through mentoring programs, business seminars, therapeutic workshops, and correspondence courses.
This Face the Current Culture Feature is published in Issue 27. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access, or continue reading this article below.
Ken is the first person from Japan to be voted into the Transformational Leadership Council—a group of personal and professional development leaders. He is fluent in Japanese and English, has lived in Boston, Massachusetts for two years, and currently resides in Tokyo, Japan.
FtC enjoyed a unique discussion with Ken Honda that touched on topics including the ways in which we can heal our past money wounds, the difference between “Happy Money” and “Unhappy Money”, the true purpose of money, and the reasons we can all benefit by shifting our relationships with money.
Sasha Frate: In your book Happy Money you reveal the Japanese art of making peace with your money. Why do you believe there is a need for people to “make peace” with their money?
Ken Honda: Money is such a big part of each of our lives and I know how powerful shifting your relationship with money can be. In my book Happy Money I’ve invited people to make peace with their money. This might seem like a strange thing to say, but most people I meet are at war with their money. When they think about money, they immediately think they don’t have enough and that they never will. They get stressed out and overwhelmed, and they fight with their partners trying to figure out how to handle their money. When people make peace with their money, they are able to feel good about their money when they think about it—they are able to trust that there will be enough, and they are able to spend their money in ways that align with their values. The funny thing is, when people make peace with their money, they often find there is also more of it because they no longer spend their money from a fearful place.
SF: Just reading your explanations of “Happy” and “Unhappy Money” immediately evokes feelings that are indeed commonly associated with these scenarios. Can you describe the difference between “Happy Money” and “Unhappy Money” and why you say we are either in flow with one or the other?
KH: I like to think of “Happy Money” as money that makes you feel really good when it’s spent. When you think of a child who spends her money to buy her mother a gift, her whole face lights up when the gift is opened. Or, think of the feeling you get when you are able to help out someone in need. This is money that comes with freedom and joy.
“Unhappy Money” is money that is spent with a feeling of anger, resentment, or any other negative emotion. Think about the angry feeling you might get when you pay a parking ticket or how upset you are when you have lost some money.
At the end of the day, what you spend your money on doesn’t dictate the flow of money you are in. For example, you could buy your mother a gift but feel like you are doing it out of obligation. You could pay a parking ticket but do it with a spirit of appreciation that people are making sure that things are running smoothly.
So, it’s really about how you feel when you spend money. And since it’s hard for most of us to feel happy and unhappy at the same time, I say that you are either in the flow of happy money or unhappy money. Most of us have a dominant emotional experience when relating to money and this is how we feel when we deal with it.
SF: “Money as energy” is such a great perspective. What does it mean to you and how do you explain it in your book?
KH: By itself, money doesn’t mean anything. If you give a two-year-old a bag full of money, they won’t understand it as anything but paper. It’s more about the symbolism of the exchange of energy that is possible with money. For example, “I give you this piece of paper which represents my labor in exchange for your labor.”
When we think of it in a little larger perspective, we notice that everything has an energy to it. In Japan, we think of things more like people. So, you’ll see someone like Marie Kondo teaching that it’s important that the things in your home “spark joy.” This is a way of saying that the energy of a thing should be joyful.
Money works the same way. As energy, money wants to be moving. So, when you work with that energy, you want to circulate money, share it, give it to friends, and receive it into your life. There’s really no place for hoarding and being greedy in a world full of happy money.
SF:“So much money exists in the world. There is so much money out there right now spreading happiness and love, but so much is also spreading sadness and fear.” You’ve identified the impact that the emotions wrapped up in our money and this energy produced by money can have not only on ourselves, but on others around us. What does that impact look like?
KH: When we spend happy money, we are spending with the future in mind. We buy things that help other people. We spend our money on things that help the planet.
So much money is spent on our desire to run from bad feelings such as our sense of aloneness, our sadness, and our feelings of powerlessness. Can you imagine if we joined together and spent that money to bring joy to others? The world would be a much happier place.
The good news is this is happening! When I was a boy, there was a massive earthquake in my hometown of Kobe. People from around the world sent food and water, clothes, medicine, and all kinds of resources. We could feel the love from these gifts in our time of need.
SF: Can you explain the concepts of Money IQ and Money EQ?
KH: Money IQ and Money EQ are two sides of the same coin. Money EQ happens to be what I have spent my time explaining in Happy Money; it’s your emotional intelligence around money including how you feel about it and the ways in which your emotions affect your decisions.
Money IQ is your financial intelligence; it’s about the daily operations of money including how to invest wisely, save well, and negotiate.
The reason that I teach Money EQ as the foundation of your relationship to money is that we all know of really wealthy people who make really disastrous decisions. This usually happens when people have a sense of woundedness around money. So, the first step is to make sure that you are emotionally in a good place with money, and then you can figure out how to make smart money choices.
Our brains are set up to pay attention to fear first. That’s why so much advertising is geared toward making us feel bad if we don’t have something that they are trying to sell us. It’s basically telling us that we will be left out of the group—alone and in danger—if we don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car. However, we are smarter than that. The more people connect with one another, the less we are afraid. It’s like human connection is the antidote to fear.
SF: What are “money wounds” and why do so many people seem to have them? Can they be “healed”?
KH: Of course—money wounds can be healed. Money wounds are the places in ourselves where we have learned to relate to the world in a more limited way than we might like. For example, when we were little, a lot of us learned that it was hard to get the things we wanted. Maybe our parents weren’t that great with money or they just didn’t have much. So, we grow up telling ourselves that we can’t have what we want. This is a money wound that will affect the way you think about money, no matter how much you actually have. When people are able to release the emotional charge that they developed around money at an early age, they can begin to find a lot more freedom in money.
SF: In your pursuit of the quest for the meaning of money, how did you identify its purpose?
KH: I’m pretty simple in this:
I believe that the purpose of money is to bring peace, love, and well-being to as many people as possible. The beautiful thing about happy money is because it does flow easily, it can reach so many people.
When people are in the flow of unhappy money, they believe that if they spend something for another person’s well-being, it means there is less money for their own use. However, when people are in the flow of happy money, they understand that your well-being and my well-being are linked—when I am happy, you can be, too!
SF:“The scarcity mindset 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. We have to get it soon, because it’s running out…when we do get what we want, it’s still never enough.” How does one break out of this common, endless cycle of entrapment?
KH: My mentor Wahei Takeda—who was called the Warren Buffet of Japan— taught me the simplest secret to break out of the scarcity mindset. That secret is appreciation. Most of us walk around all day not realizing how much we really have. However, when we slow down and notice that we are living in such abundance, we begin to appreciate what we have, and our sense of scarcity begins to fall away.
I mentioned Marie Kondo earlier. I loved watching her show. She had people bring all their clothes into one space and you saw people with piles and piles of clothing in front of them. As soon as you see so much, you realize you have much more than you need.
In that moment, something inside you that has been telling you to continue to acquire more and more begins to relax. You can feel good about what you have and begin to share all you have been given with other people.
SF: You name several reasons why people want more money, with a common reason being “to find freedom”. You’ve stated that, “Money can buy things that will make you feel happy temporarily, but without true fulfillment that comes from within, true freedom will escape you.” Among all the reasons people seek to obtain more money, why do you suggest that what matters most in determining your wealth is your attitude about money?
KH: Money is like so many other things in our world that can be used to cover up our pain. When we buy something, we can feel in control in a crazy world for just a moment. When we give ourselves a gift, we can feel good for a few minutes. However, those feelings don’t last. The loneliness, sadness, and pain of the world creeps through quicker and quicker over time.
But, if you feel good, you don’t need to buy much—you can exist pretty simply and still feel like you have plenty. From that place, you are able to decide to buy something because you genuinely want it and it will enhance your life, rather than it just being a temporary solution for an ache in your heart.
SF: With our current financial system based on fear—as is our society, our education system, workplaces, and possibly our home lives, too—might you say we’re set up for failure since, “Using fear is not an effective form to get what you want…it is often destructive and causes lasting harm.” How do we create a loving, abundant relationship with money instead?
KH: Our brains are set up to pay attention to fear first. That’s why so much advertising is geared toward making us feel bad if we don’t have something that they are trying to sell us. It’s basically telling us that we will be left out of the group—alone and in danger—if we don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car.
However, we are smarter than that. When we spend time with people, we forget what they drove up in or what they are wearing and simply focus on how they make us feel. We are all so similar in what we want—happiness, health, love, friendship, and a sense of purpose—that it really doesn’t take much effort to find a way out of fear. We can see this all over the world and it gives me so much hope. The more people connect with one another, the less we are afraid. It’s like human connection is the antidote to fear.
So, to move into a loving relationship with money, we begin by creating a loving relationship with ourselves. That comes from healing our money wounds and finding what truly makes us happy. We also need to connect with other people that love and care for us. I teach in the book that our relationships are really the source of wealth and happiness, and I’m so glad so many people are beginning to live this around the world.