The theory of happy living

Besides the theory of relativity for which Einstein is famous, there is also his theory of happy living that was sent out in a message to a Japanese courier, in German, when he was on a lecture tour in Japan in the year 1922. Einstein could not tip the messenger, instead, he wrote him two notes in German with the prophetic words, “maybe if you are lucky these notes will become much more valuable than just a regular tip”. And after 95 years the note on happy living surfaced in Jerusalem and went were sold for a whopping 1.56 million dollars. They said “a quiet and modest life brings more joy than the pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.”

Though not of much value to the scientific community, this could be the private philosophy of the scientist. It is humbling to reflect that Einstein who had reached the pinnacle of fame with a Nobel award should advocate for a quiet and modest life away from the arc lights. Perhaps he was disillusioned with fame and it’s compulsions and experienced a sense of isolation as he said elsewhere, “it is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” Beyond the pursuit of ambition, fame and pride there is the wearisome endeavour of constant engagement with the world and its preoccupations.

Einstein is not alone in his yearning for a modest life. We have Shakespeare who at the height of his success as a playwright, wrote his last play, The Tempest and withdrew from public life at the age of 50. With Prospero’s renunciation of his magical powers in the Tempest, which he had spent a lifetime perfecting, Shakespeare too bids farewell to the stage at the height of his career and leaves for a life of retirement in Stratford on Avon. In the famous words of the epilogue to the play ”Now my charms are all o’erthrown / And what strength I have’s mine own” Shakespeare speaks through his character, wanting to be himself without the tiresome trappings of fame.

John Ruskin, the Victorian critic and literary figure says, “To watch the corn grow and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over plow share or spade: to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray-these are things that make me happy”. Admittedly, these are great people who have tasted the fruits of success on this side of life and desire to turn away, but the majority of us with our own small achievements and successes and perhaps even failures have contributed to the larger scheme of things. Walt Whitman said, “I believe a blade of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” All great men remind us that in the midst of all our efforts for recognition and material rewards we must not forget the need to be ourselves and at peace!

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