Einstein's theory of happiness sold for $2m

This note written in German by Albert Einstein in 1922 on hotel stationery describes his theory on happy living, calling for a "calm and modest life".
This note written in German by Albert Einstein in 1922 on hotel stationery describes his theory on happy living, calling for a "calm and modest life".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nobel laureate gave Tokyo messenger two signed notes in 1922 when he had no money to tip

JERUSALEM • He is known as one of the great minds in 20th-century science. But this week, Albert Einstein is making headlines for his advice on how to live a happy life, and a tip that paid off.

In November 1922, Einstein was travelling from Europe to Japan for a speaking tour when he learnt he had been awarded his field's highest prize: the Nobel Prize in physics.

The award recognised his contributions to theoretical physics.

News of Einstein's arrival spread quickly throughout Japan, and thousands flocked to catch a glimpse of the Nobel laureate.

Impressed but also embarrassed by the publicity, Einstein tried to write down his thoughts and feelings from his hotel room.

That was 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 them to the messenger. If you are lucky, the notes themselves will some day 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 Tuesday for a combined US$1.8 million (S$2.5 million).

"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. It sold for US$1.56 million (S$2.1 million).

The note had originally been estimated to sell for between US$5,000 and US$8,000, according to the Winner's Auctions and Exhibitions website. Its chief executive officer Gal Wiener said bidding on that note began at US$2,000.

"When there's a will, there's a way," read the other note, written on a blank sheet of paper. That note sold at auction for US$240,000 and was initially estimated to sell for a high of US$6,000.

The seller was reported to be a relative of the messenger. Neither the buyer's nor the seller's identity has been made public.

Mr 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 are doing here is painting the portrait of Einstein - the man, the scientist, his effect on the world - through his writings," Mr 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Einstein's theory of happiness sold for $2m'. Print Edition | Subscribe