Is Your Money Smiling?

When I was at university, my friends and I developed a somewhat unique way of getting the most out of our philosophical reading. Before we would dive into books like Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents or Niebuhr’s Radical Monotheism and Western Culture, we would make up what we thought the book would be about and discuss the topic from our own point of view. 

By the time we read the book, we were no longer supplicants at the font of someone else’s wisdom; we were instead fellow explorers, comparing notes on our journey.

I thought about this recently when I picked up a book called Happy Money by a Japanese author with the assumedly Westernized name of Ken Honda. At the very beginning of the preface, he tells the story of being approached by a woman at a party who asked to see his wallet. Somewhat less nonplussed than I imagine I would have been at her request, he handed it over to her and watched as she went through all of his cash, note by note.

He had no idea what she was doing, but was intrigued when she explained that she was checking to see “whether or not his money was smiling”. To his relief, she affirmed that all of his money looked good and handed him back his wallet.

Let me confess immediately that I haven’t yet read the rest of the book, so nothing from this point forward has anything to do with Mr. Honda’s writing or philosophy. 

But I was sufficiently intrigued by the very concept of “smiling money” that I wanted to take some time to explore it here so that you and I can compare notes on our journeys…

My very first experience of earning money came in working for my father at the age of eight. He ran a machine shop and offered to pay me a penny a tool for sorting through used drill bits from the many honing machines in the workshop, throwing out the dull ones and putting aside those that still had the teeth to bite for reuse in future jobs. To his dismay, when I’d earned enough money for whatever I want to buy, from a couple of dollars for some packs of baseball cards to the princely sum of $6.95 for a new book I wanted to read, I would stop work for the day regardless of how many tools still needed to be sorted.

Nepotism worked in my favor, and despite my only showing up for work when I wanted to buy something, he very kindly let me keep my job. But he made his philosophy very clear:

In the real world, a job well done is worth more than the money you earn from doing it.Click To Tweet

In many ways, I’ve seen that to be true, not only morally but in that the care you put into your work is the difference that makes the difference between short-term financial gain and long-term sustainable success. But in at least one other way, my eight year old self instinctively knew something that it’s taken me many decades to rediscover:

The value of money is always relative to what it’s used for and what you did to get it.Click To Tweet

If you genuinely appreciate what your money affords you, your money is “smiling”, no matter how little of it you may have at any given moment.  Similarly, if you love what you do, the money you earn is “smiling” because it was quite literally made with love. 

But the converse is equally true – if you resent what you have to do to make money and the things you have to spend it on, your money has nothing to smile about. And the thing about miserable money is that it leads to a pretty miserable financial life, no matter how much of it you have. 

When my friend Paul McKenna and I spent a year and a half researching his Sunday Times bestselling book I Can Make You Rich, we quickly learned to separate the people we spent time interviewing as either” happy millionaires” or “miserable millionaires”. The difference between the two was clearly nothing to do with their bank balances and a lot to do with their relationship with money.

The “miserable millionaires” tended to see their money as either proof of their worth or proof against a dangerous and hostile world. In the same way as their aren’t enough cookies in the world to make you feel loved and whole, no amount of money was ever going to be enough because money doesn’t have the power to make us feel worthy and safe. By way of contrast, the happy millionaires tended to really appreciate and enjoy what they had. 

But here’s the thing – both the happy millionaires and miserable millionaires had a facility for business and in particular the business of making money. The ones who hated their lives were often as or more capable than the ones who loved their lives. It’s just that they were pretty miserable and their counterparts were pretty happy.

Now if at this point, you’re wondering what the foibles of happy or miserable millionaires have to do with your financial life, I’ll do my best to connect the dots with some of my observations since that original study:

  • How much your money is smiling is nothing to do with how much or little of it you have

  • How much or little you enjoy your life has less to do with how much money you can make than it does to do with how much or little you enjoy your life

  • Waiting until you have more money to fall in love with life is a pretty lousy strategy, if only because it doesn’t ever work


Is your money smiling?

If not, not to worry. We live in a world where money is deified and demonized in equal measure, often at the same time. The chances of your not having picked up a pretty crappy attitude towards it are kind of limited.

But if you’re willing to get a little bit more conscious around your thinking about how you make and spend your money, you’re liable to make your money turn its frown upside down. 

Here’s an experiment if you want to dive a bit deeper into your own relationship with money:

  1. For the next few weeks, be conscious of what you spend your money on and how you feel before, during, and after spending it. Wherever possible, spend it with love and appreciation for what it affords you.

  2. If you love what you do to earn money, keep on keeping on. Your money is probably already pretty happy. But if not, consider seeing your job through the eyes of an eight year old – a simple means to get the means to keep a roof over your head, a smartphone in your pocket, and the occasional pack of baseball cards.

With all my love,


PS – If you want to explore your relationship with money in more depth and make genuine, lasting changes in how you think, feel, and earn, please consider our online video program, Financial Freedom from the Inside-Out!