Multi-colored graffiti mural of Albert Einstein

This Is the Secret of Happiness, According to Einstein (It’s Just 17 Words Long)

Jessica Stillman
4 min readMar 10, 2022


Albert Einstein is famous for discovering the theory of relativity, among other world-changing insights. But the great physicist didn’t concern himself just with the rules governing space and time. He was also interested in the rules of our internal state of mind.

As Psychology Today has noted, Einstein spoke regularly about the search for happiness. “It’s happiness we’re after,” he told an interviewer who asked him what humans desired most in 1931. “Will any student of history agree that the inhabitants of an American city are, on the whole, happier than those of a Greek or a Babylonian city of the past?” he mused at a symposium that same year.

Clearly the great genius was as intrigued as the rest of us by the question of what constitutes a truly happy life. Did he find an equation that solved this eternal riddle? Yes, and he even scribbled it down in all of 17 words.

17 words worth $1.56 million

In 1922, one year after he won the Nobel Prize, Einstein traveled to Japan for a lecture series and found himself continually surrounded by curious admirers. Apparently even back then, he was turning over the question of happiness in his mind, because one day when a bellboy came to make a delivery to his hotel room, Einstein handed him a pair of signed notes rather than a tip.

One of them read (in German): “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

It’s unclear whether Einstein was passing a note to posterity or was simply caught without pocket change and knew his signature would be worth a lot more than any tip one day. But whatever Einstein’s motivations, his gesture turned out to be incredibly generous. In 2017 the note, now owned by one of the bellboy’s descendants, sold for $1.56 million at auction.

Was Einstein right about happiness?

Clearly Einstein had as good a grasp of the market for future memorabilia as he did for physics. But what about his happiness advice itself? Was Einstein onto something with his note advocating for contentment rather than never-ending striving? Unsurprisingly, the last…



Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.