Theory Of Happiness

Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness

Back in 1922, Albert Einstein wrote something down and handed it to a bellboy as a tip (he claims he didn’t have any change) and stated that, if he was lucky, the piece of paper could be worth more than a tip one day.

That piece of paper recently sold for $1.56 Million.

The grandson of that bellboy’s brother was the recipient. Einstein’s prophecy proved to be correct, and that bellboy’s family received a truly generous tip.

So…what was on that piece of paper?

Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness

Einstein's Theory Of Happiness

The Secret To Happiness

According to Einstein, striving for “A Calm And Modest Life” while avoiding “The Pursuit of Success Combined With Constant Restlessness” is the secret to happiness.

Is his theory correct?

While most of Einstein’s Theories are more scientific in nature, and thereby more easily proven using a scientific method, this Theory Of Happiness is different.  It’s “softer”, and harder to prove with data.

Today, we’re going to try to prove it.

Side Note:  Seems I’m not the only person who likes to weave in some “soft stuff” with my “hard stuff” (as longtime readers know, I enjoy alternating between the two styles in my writing, given that both are important to achieve a great retirement).  I’m honored to be in such esteemed company….

Let’s read Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness Again:

A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness. Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

In today’s post, I’m going to break down Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness, and see what we can learn from the words of a genius written 97 years ago.

Breaking Down Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness

In order to prove Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness, we’ll evaluate the elements contained within the Theory.  Let’s start with the opening line:

1. A Calm And Modest Life

Most folks live anything BUT a calm and modest life.  In a world where success is often measured in material goods, many folks run themselves ragged in pursuit of stuff.  Does this type of harried lifestyle lead to happiness? In doing some research for this post, I googled “How Many People Are Happy”.  According to this article that I found, 33% of Americans consider themselves happy.  More interesting to me was the following quote from the CEO of Harris Poll, in response to the findings from their survey:

“We are so caught up in our texting, multitasking, jobs and commutes that we seem to have less and less free time. Older people age 65+ are the happiest.”

I wonder if there’s a correlation between “older people are the happiest” and the reality that older people are more likely to lead a calm and modest life.  Let’s assume so, and use it as the basis to conclude that the first piece of the theory is correct.

2. The Pursuit Of Success

If you’re like me, you know some folks who are “caught up” in The Pursuit of Success.  I’ve known dozens of folks throughout my career who were in full throttle pursuit of material success, often at a cost in other areas of their lives.

I can’t speak for all of them, but I think it’s fair to conclude that many of them are not, indeed, “happy”.  This conclusion seems to be supported by an article in Psychology Today which concludes that “materialism is associated with unhappiness”.  The following quote from the article is relevant:

“On the contrary, research has shown people who make their happiness and satisfaction contingent upon consumption tend to be less happy and more dissatisfied with life.”  Psychology Today

Let’s use that study’s conclusion as evidence that The Pursuit of Success is not a proven path to happiness, thereby confirming another element of Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness.

3. Constant Restlessness

The final element in Einstein’s Theory of Happiness is that Constant Restlessness interferes with true happiness.  This one is a little harder to “prove” with facts, so I’m going to go with personal experience.

We all have had periods of Constant Restlessness in our lives.  

Think for a minute about a time in your life when you had “Constant Restlessness”.  Were you happy?

I think of a time when I was having a pretty serious conflict with my boss.  For almost a year, I had many restless nights and tossed and turned as I struggled with how to deal with my situation.  Like most things, life went on and I was able to improve my situation.  I accepted a position working elsewhere in the company, and my previous boss ultimately left the organization.  However, during my period of Constant Restlessness, I was most certainly NOT happy.

So, pulling from personal experience, I’ll conclude that Einstein’s third element was correct.

The Final Test

Thus far, it seems that Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness is holding up to our evaluation.

Let’s look at one last experiment, drawing from a real-life experience my wife and I had last summer on an island in the Pacific Northwest.  As we look at our experience, I encourage you to think of a time in your life when you had a similar experience and compare it to Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness.  I suspect you’ll find evidence supporting his theory if you look in the right places.

Anderson Island, WA
My wife on the shores of Anderson Island, WA

The Theory In Practice:  An Island In The Sound

Last year my wife and I rented an AirBnB on Anderson Island, a quaint little island in the southern edge of Puget Sound (see map image to the right).

Our daughter and her husband (and our new Grandaughter, yay!) live near Tacoma, and we thought it would be a fun experience to live on an island while we were visiting them.

Anderson Island is a beautiful slice of paradise in the Pacific Northwest.  As you drive off the ferry after the short journey across the water from the mainland, something changes.

The world seems to slow down.

The island pulls you in.  You relax.  You’re overcome by her Calm.

We Were Happy.

The island became a special place to us, and we’ve discussed it numerous times since our visit. I suspect you’ve visited places that are special in your life.  Places where you slowed down.  Places that made you happy.

We enjoyed our time on the island so much that I decided to buy a book to study the history of the island.  Island In The Sound was written by Hazel Heckman, a longtime resident of Anderson Island.  In reading through the history, I was struck by two quotes from the book which seem to support Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness:

“If you shift down instead of up, your gears don’t wear out so soon”

Hazel was quoting one of the old-timers on the island, who was explaining why island residents seem to live longer than average lifespans.

“There is little concern for more than enough.”

There was an alluring simplicity to the early history of Anderson Island.  Folks were self-sufficient, and not concerned with material things.  Relationships were important, and neighbors helped each other out. Reading through the book, it seemed clear to me that Anderson Island was a place where people were content.

Where People Were Happy.

Anderson Island Homestead
Anderson Island:  An Early Homestead


Embrace a calm and modest life, and avoid the pursuit of things that don’t matter.

According to Einstein, it can lead to happiness.

I know it has for me.

Life’s Short.

Be Happy.


  1. Great stuff, I used Einstein myself once in a post since he rode bikes. I agree with the statement and your breakdown of it makes sense. However the reason (I think) we don’t follow the advice can be explained using a science analogy, to put it right back on Albert. We humans are communal types, and we tend to fall in the energy state of the humans around us. So, like a bunch of atoms or molecules, if you start heating them up, they start to move faster and become less calm. It’s very difficult for one atom or molecule to stay calm when the ones around you are increasingly freaking out and becoming restless.

    So we tend to conform to the environment of our peers. Especially since, if we want to make money, we then tend to move to urban areas which is where the best jobs are. It’s also where the atoms are heated up.

    So my challenge to Mr. Einstein is to tell me how we can stay calm and peaceful in an environment full of restless and rapidly moving atoms.

    I had good coffee this morning 🙂

    1. Wow, you DID have your coffee this morning! Great theory about all of us getting influenced by our surroundings, and the impact of Urban lives. No doubt, moving to the mountains for our retirement has helped us live a calmer and more satisfying life (also influenced, no doubt, by the “slower moving atoms” around us).

  2. This makes me think of the “do one thing a day” apptoach we often take. I learned that years ago from a group leader on a hiking trip in the Tetons where it was common to see folks walking their llamas on a leash at night.

    I think the insulation provided by living on a small island gives a peacefulness most of us find hard to replicate. A good beginning is shutting out noise and scaling down on tv, radio, social media, gossiping, and discussion revolving around idol-worshipping (sports figures, actors, singers, etc)

    1. I remember when you first posted about your “one a day” approach to retirement, and it’s always stuck with me. Yep, a similar concept of simplifying our lives to enjoy them more. Great addition about “shutting out noise”, as well. No doubt that a lot of the noise in our world today is not the type that increases happiness!

  3. Hi Fritz,
    I LOVE that you weave the “soft stuff” in with the practical retirement facts and advice!
    And, it is so interesting to me that you also are exploring what makes us happy…as you know I am in the midst of my own investigation.
    Your slowing down on the island reminds me of how Dan and I feel when we are on the boat. The simple act of “being on the water” crowds out all of the that other stuff and really does clear your mind and calm your heart. I don’t care what career you are in, life is stressful and takes a toll on us all. Einstein was a very wise man indeed.

    1. Nancy, I’ve been enjoying your exploration of happiness, much more involved than my little post today. I can totally relate to the feeling on your sailboat, we had a 22′ Cape Dory for ~4 years, and loved the solitude and relaxation of being on the water. Your blog has made me think about MacGregors again (considered them at one point earlier in our lives, love the trailerability). I wonder if too many toys would move us away from the “simplify” advice of Mr. Einstein, we may have to wait until we’re out of our RV phase.

  4. Pensive. Conforms with my experience, too. And a calm and modest life requires but a little capital, as we know. Will share. Thanks.

  5. Good stuff Fritz!

    My wife and I have also experienced the “Less is More” lifestyle for several years. When you decide not to chase your tail as much, you start seeing a lot of new things around you that you didn’t notice before.
    Our biggest problem is explaining to family and friends that we actually are happier in a smaller house and living a more streamlined lifestyle.
    Living more simply by design, not necessity.

  6. Wow, this makes me want to rethink what makes for a big tip. Leave it to Einstein, as I believe he also said that compounding is the 8th wonder of the world.

    I love the photos you have of Anderson Island. We visited friends at nearby Boston Harbor and it is a beautiful area. Travel is a wonderful opportunity now that you’re free. In the FI community, there has been a certain debate about the question of retiring or not, and I’ve clearly staked out the “yes” vote for myself. The part of Einstein’s quote that seems the most debatable is the interpretation of the Pursuit of Success. To me, success is in this freedom that early retirement has opened up, rather than material success. So, do I get partial credit for proving Einstein and you wrong, ha?

    1. Einstein did, indeed say that about compounding, I wrote about it in “The Most Powerful Force In The Universe“! Guess I’m hung up on Mr. Einstein. Smart fella, that guy.

      Good point about FI being a potentially debatable “Pursuit of Success”, though I would argue that pursuit may not be as wrapped up with “constant restlessness”, so Mr. Einstein’s theory still stands. Partial credit granted, with the noted disclaimer on restlessness. Smiles.

  7. So much sage advice. Since moving to the city I have had to remind myself of this. Do not be influenced by those around you. Live the life you want. Simple and calm. Relaxed and enjoyable. Hard to remember, hard to practice, but oh so important.

  8. I wonder if one must live the one lifestyle to really appreciate the another lifestyle. Typically the “less is more” crowd are ones who had the more at one time. The folks in lovely rural areas I think look longingly at the city folk and vice versa. We tend not to appreciate what we have until we’ve experienced the other side.
    It is through some restlessness and discomfort that we grow, but lets not wallow it in:)

    1. Good question, Frank (ah, perhaps another Theory!?). I have family who live in lovely rural areas, and wouldn’t move to the city for anything. Perhaps a lot of it comes from your upbringing, and what feels most “comfortable” to each individual? Be sure to weave that concept in when you publish your new theory, backlink appreciated. Wink.

  9. I love that Einstein story. The philosophy is very similar to Buddhism. You aim for the middle path. Live a balanced life and you’ll happier than anyone who’s chasing success. Great post.

  10. I think that’s a pretty good formula for success, though I get restless if I don’t have enough to do. I’m not sure how I’ll handle any eventual retirement, but maybe I’ll have slowed down by then… Or just found more things to do in my off-time.

  11. I believe I found the happiness you describe on Anderson Island on a place we started going to 37 years ago. I find that I am drawn back every few years to Sanibel Island Florida. It is a quaint island where I can get away. Everything moves a little slower and calmer. We go there for a vacation and it is a total relaxation kind of vacation. Nothing to do but some sea shelling on the beach, ride a bike and then decide where to go eat. Those are the big decisions to make while there. It seems as I get closer to a retirement date, this place just keeps pulling me like gravity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.