Money: it makes the world go around, it doesn’t grow on trees, and, if the statistics are correct, it’s the root of all … anxiety. Or, at least, a lot of anxiety.
Research from the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 report shows that 64 per cent of US adults see money as a source of stress. A 2020 study designed by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong found that 65.7 per cent of Hongkongers felt stressed about income or employment this year.
Experts suggest that the global economic uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened pre-existing financial anxiety, and it is affecting our well-being.
“Financial stress has a huge impact on our mental and physical health,” says Dr Sharmeen Shroff, director and clinical psychologist at Central Minds, Hong Kong.
So, can we ease this financial anxiety now that we’ve begun 2021? Yes, believes Japanese self-development author Ken Honda – by practising gratitude. His book Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money explores the idea that cultivating a positive money mindset can relieve financial worries, and allow us to make and spend money more peacefully.
“Happy people tend to receive money with appreciation, and when they let go, they also do that with appreciation,” he explains.
Central to Honda’s philosophy is the concept of thanking your money as it enters and leaves your life. “It’s arigato in, arigato out,” he says. “Thank your money coming in, thank your money going out.” He learned this method from his mentor, the investor Wahei Takeda, who is deemed “Japan’s Warren Buffett ”, and believes it generates an appreciative attitude that leaves little room for worry.
“Focus on appreciation,” he says – it doesn’t cost you anything, and it might even improve your bank balance. “Appreciative people tend to make more money than people who always grouch and complain about things. Appreciation is very contagious.”
“Happy money” is money spent joyfully, such as cash used to help out a friend or treat someone you love, and you don’t need to be wealthy to adopt the approach.
Honda believes that tough times call for us to turn to what he calls the “invisible assets” of friendships and relationships. “I think having people who love you around you is very important,” he says.
“As long as you have a little money and you can appreciate it, you will feel more secure,” asserts Honda, who argues that it is even possible to draw happiness from financial obligations like paying taxes.
For anyone finding it difficult to feel elated when waving goodbye to their pay cheque on rent day, he suggests concentrating on how the money will benefit others in society. “Whatever money touches, it enriches people’s lives,” he says. “Money is blessing everybody when it circulates.”
Education can also be an effective antidote to financial stress. Annamaria Lusardi, founder and academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Centre (GFLEC) at George Washington University in Washington in the US, believes that improving our financial literacy is the key to feeling more secure.
She suggests scheduling a regular time each week to deal with money issues, stressing: “You solve the problem by taking charge of it … ignorance in finance is not bliss.”
For Lusardi, the importance of boosting our financial knowledge bears no relation to our level of wealth. “People feel that finance is for the rich, and I actually think the opposite is true,” she says. “Finance is part of life, and we need to embrace it.”
Talking about money can be socially challenging, but the experts emphasise that it’s crucial to speak out if you need help. “It’s almost a taboo subject,” says Shroff. “So we bottle things up and try to resolve things on our own, but that often leaves us feeling more isolated and overwhelmed.”
Your health is your wealth, so self-care is also essential to avoid being financially overwhelmed. Instead of lying awake at night worrying about your finances, Shroff suggests boosting your energy and self-esteem by focusing on elements you can control, such as exercise, meditation or mindfulness, getting sufficient sleep and healthy eating .
In addition to voicing your worries, she lists staying in the present moment and avoiding social media as positive actions that can help lighten the load.
According to Shroff, one of the reasons money can be so anxiety-inducing is that we associate it with survival, safety and security, but there are things we can do to feel less threatened.
“I think the most important thing is to remind yourself that you’re not alone in all of this,” she says. “No matter how hopeless the situation that you find yourself in, there is always help available. By tackling problems – money problems, any problems really – you can find a way through the circumstances that you’re in and ease your stress levels and regain control of your finances and your life.”
And, as Lusardi points out, a healthy sense of perspective is vital. “Money is not a religion,” she says. “Money is a means to achieve an objective.” By reframing the way we view personal finance to focus on our individual objectives, she believes we can free up time spent worrying about money and live better. “The objective of finance,” she says, “is to be happy.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.