Einstein's handwritten formula for happiness just sold for 1.3 million

Genius tip for a happy life was literally a tip.

Genius tip for a happy life was literally a tip.

(Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Ninety-five years ago when a bellhop in a Tokyo hotel walked away from a German tourist sporting conspicuous hair, one could surmise there was some grumbling about the tip received. The recompense pocketed wasn't legal tender of any sort, it was literally a tip, handwritten in German. Spoiler alert: it's legal tender now.   

(Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

In November of 1922, on a trip to Japan, Albert Einstein received word that he'd be awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. Fates had it that based on Alfred Nobel's parameters for the award, it had been difficult to pick a winner the year before, hence the late decision. The notable thinker was trying to collect his thoughts, presumably for the acceptance speech, when a knock distracted him.   

Caught without funds on hand when a hotel porter made his delivery, the physicist scribbled some life advice on hotel stationery. According to Winner's Auctions and Exhibitions, in an act of Einsteinian foresight, he assured the bellboy the note would be worth far more than a standard tip someday. The note read:

"A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it."

My inner cynic wants to offer here that the life hack comes from a man whose successes in his field are practically unparalleled. But yes, slow down, less is more, both noted. The man, after all, knew some stuff. The physicist was also famously quoted as saying, "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value," at some point during his life. So, one can glean that blindly chasing success to the detriment of other virtues was not part of his life philosophy.   

Last week Einstein's happiness formula sold for 1.3 million dollars when the bellboy's nephew put it up for auction in Jerusalem. On a separate sheet he wrote, conflictingly, "Where there's a will, there's a way." That one, something of a platitude frankly, went for $250,000 to the same person. The European buyer remains anonymous.

Still, modern theories of happiness prove that Einstein, with his first scribble at least, was onto something. Dan Gilbert, contentment authority and author of Stumbling Upon Happiness, has challenged the idea that happiness and gratification are linked. Contentedness is a moving target, he says, and that's a good thing. Our "psychological immune system" makes our pursuit of inner peace somewhat sisyphean. When we get what we want, we just want something better, eventually. Thankfully, the inverse is also true: should disaster strike, our internal barometers for life satisfaction eventually readjust our measures of joy accordingly. It's how newly disabled people, for one, tend to find peace and genuine happiness, in time.  Or how even brutal financial and romantic setbacks feel less catastrophic five years after they happen.

As for Einstein and the fated bellhop, no information was given on whether or not the porter rested on his laurels and remained a humble bellboy for life, presumably steeped in happiness. Not that it matters. In the end, contentedness is relative. Although, to be fair, a calm and humble life sounds lovely. Especially if you're sitting on a million-dollar heirloom your uncle left you.   


Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen