Einstein’s Theory of Happiness

Sold at auction: his handwritten advice, given before a lecture at Keio University that Josei Toda and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi attended.

Groundbreaking— Albert Einstein and his wife, Elsa, at the University of Commerce, with Japanese faculty, Tokyo, November 1922. It was during this trip to Japan that Einstein wrote two notes on his basic theory of happiness. Photo: Alber Einstein Archives / Green Light.

He is known as one of the great minds in 20th-century science. But Albert Einstein made headlines recently for his advice on how to live a happy life. In November 1922, Einstein was traveling from Europe to Japan for a speaking tour when he learned he’d been awarded his field’s highest prize: the Nobel Prize in physics. The award recognized his contributions to theoretical physics.

News of Einstein’s arrival spread quickly through Japan, and more than 2,000 people attended his five-hour lecture on Nov. 19, 1922, at Keio University’s Mita campus. Among them were Josei Toda, who was just 22 at the time, and his mentor, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. This event became a source of lifelong pride for Mr. Toda (see article “On Encountering an Auspicious Time”).

Einstein was apparently impressed but also embarrassed by the publicity surrounding the Nobel Prize, and he tried to write down his thoughts and feelings in his secluded hotel room. That’s when the messenger arrived with a delivery, and Einstein found himself without any money for a tip.

Instead, he wrote two short notes and handed it to the messenger. If you are lucky, the notes themselves would someday be worth more than some spare change, Einstein supposedly said.

Those autographed notes, in which Einstein offered his thoughts on how to live a happy and fulfilling life, sold at a Jerusalem auction house on Oct. 24 for a combined $1.8 million.

Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images.

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,” read one of the notes, written in German from the Imperial Hotel Tokyo in November 1922.

“When there’s a will, there’s a way,” read the other note, written on a blank sheet of paper.

Roni Grosz, the archivist overseeing the Einstein archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Japan Times that the notes help uncover the innermost thoughts of a scholar whose public profile was synonymous with scientific genius.

“What we’re doing here is painting the portrait of Einstein—the man, the scientist, his effect on the world—through his writings,” Grosz said. “This is a stone in the mosaic.”

Einstein was among the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and gave the university’s first scientific lecture in 1923. He willed his personal archives, as well as the rights to his works, to the institution.

Einstein was still traveling during the Nobel awards ceremony in December 1922, so he was absent when the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics said that “there is probably no physicist living today whose name has become so widely known as that of Albert Einstein.”

Perhaps Einstein would have settled for something more “calm and modest.”

—Adapted from The Washington Post