It was the winter of 1922, and Albert Einstein was restless. Having just been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics the year before, he was expected to fly to Stockholm, accept his award, and deliver a speech. But Einstein wasn’t in the mood: On a lecture tour in Japan, he decided the Land of the Rising Sun was too lovely to quit too soon, especially for something as dreary as a very public talk followed by press interviews.
Lounging in Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel one afternoon, Einstein was approached by a messenger who had come to deliver a letter to the famous scientist. Refusing to accept cash as a tip, the messenger was about to leave, when Einstein asked him to hold on for a bit. Taking out two small sheets of paper, the genius scribbled two pieces of advice, his Theory of Happiness.
“A calm and modest life bring much more happiness than constantly chasing success, which always involves constant restlessness,” read the first.
“When there’s a will,” read the second, “there’s a way.”
Both notes ended up with a relative of the messenger’s, a German resident of Hamburg, who, this week, put them up for sale with a Jerusalem auction house. The initial bidding price was $2,000, with the house estimating the note’s value at around $8,000. It went for $1.3 million, sold to an anonymous buyer in the market for wisdom. You, dear reader, now benefit from the same sagacity at no cost at all. Perhaps Einstein was right: It’s the calm and modest life that brings true happiness.
Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.