Around a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein, the genius of the 20th century, pondered complex matters of science. Such as what can happen if two massive sources of gravity, such as black holes, collided billions of years ago in a distant part of the galaxy.
The respected physicist proposed that this would be a complicated “coupling” with implications of enormous proportions: the impact between the two black holes would distort time and space, and its impact would be anything but local. Instead, the collision would result in the creation of gravitational waves that would then travel through the galaxy.
Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves was proven right only in 2016 when scientists were able to witness such a gravitational wave for the first time in recorded history. And while none of us may be surprised to hear that Einstein was proven right about any of his brilliant theories, what’s unexpected is when we learn of his thoughts on essential human conditions such as happiness.
Which brings us to a more personal episode of his life that unfolded nearly a century back. In the late months of 1922, Einstein was staying in Japan, where he had several scheduled lectures to conduct. During his stay there, it is known that he got a message informing him that he won the Nobel Prize in physics. Of course he must have been pleased to receive such news. However, he decided to continue his stay in Japan, which is why he never went to Stockholm later in December of that year to claim the award in person.
During his stay at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, it happened that one day a bellboy presented him with a delivery. Supposedly, Einstein was without any cash at that moment so he couldn’t properly tip the bellboy. Instead, he handed him two pieces of paper, in one of which he contemplates the meaning of happiness. Einstein remarked to the bellboy to try not to lose the notes, as one day they could have much greater value than the usual tip.
On October 24, 2017, some 95 years after this uncommon encounter between the physicist and the bellboy, Einstein was proven right once again. The more prominent note, now famously dubbed the “happiness letter”–which reads in Einstein’s own handwriting, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness”–has reportedly hit an astonishing sum of $1.5 million while being offered at auction.
The auction took place in Israel, hosted by Winner’s Auctions & Exhibitions, and the bidding for this letter lasted no more than 25 minutes. The second note that Einstein handed to the bellboy, which states “Where there’s will there’s a way,” was purchased by another buyer for $240,000, Winner’s auction house reports.
The winning bid far, far exceeded expectations among auctioneers, since the initially estimated amount varied between $5,000 and $8,000. According to a spokesperson from the auction house, Einstein’s “happiness letter” has become an “all-time record for an auction of a document in Israel.”
Both sheets of paper were not known to many people, and the person who offered at auction prefers to stay anonymous, residing in Hamburg, Germany. The new owner of Einstein’s “happiness letter” also comes from Europe and has wishes to remain anonymous too.
According to Roni Grosz from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, who works as an Einstein archivist, the recent auction is only “a stone in the mosaic.” He stated that they are “painting the portrait of Einstein–the man, the scientist, his effect on the world–through his writing.” It will be exciting if more such personal news about the distinguished physicist emerges in the future.