The Secret to Happiness, According to Einstein

11/06/2017 10:12 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2017
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Happiness is a pursuit for millions of people. You want to be happy, and all the other things you want are typically meant to be a means to that end. The question of what makes us happy is likely as old as human reasoning itself and has occupied the minds of a great many philosophers, scientists and and psychologists.

We are far more powerful than our ancestors, but are we much happier than they were? The bitter truth is that happiness is a wrong pursuit. Many people spend most of their hours constructing tomorrows they hope will make them happy but they end up miserable.

Christine L. Carter Ph.D., a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and author of “The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Work and Home,” explains: “Compelling research indicates that the pursuit of happiness — when our definition of happiness is synonymous with pleasure and easy gratification — won’t ultimately bring us deeper feelings of fulfillment; it won’t allow us to live in our sweet spot. Although we claim that the “pursuit of happiness” is our inalienable right and the primary driver of the human race, we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning — creating lives that generate the feeling that we matter.”

Happiness is one of the most-researched yet captivatingly topics in recent history. In his book, Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert explores the tricks our minds play on us in its pursuit and how the limitations of our imagination get in the way of the grand quest.

He writes: “We insist on steering our boats because we think we have a pretty good idea of where we should go, but the truth is that much of our steering is in vain—not because the boat won’t respond, and not because we can’t find our destination, but because the future is fundamentally different than it appears through the prospectiscope.

In 1922, while on a lecture tour of Japan, two notes written by Albert Einstein briefly outlining his thoughts on life and happiness. After 95 years, the notes have been uncovered and subsequently sold for $1.56 Million.

One of the notes, signed and dated on stationery from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in 1922, read:

A note written on a Tokyo hotel official paper in 1922 by Albert Einstein/REUTERS
“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,” in the physicist’s native German.

Einstein’s words are a thought provoker for people struggling in political and economic times.

Life in the 21st century is largely consumer oriented where the media paints the idea that happiness is a matter of buying the the best house, driving the most expensive car, wearing the trendiest clothes and posting life updates on the latest high tech mobile devices.

What if the pursuit of a modest life brings the true happiness you seek. Pursuing simple life experiences is probably more valuable to your quest to find happiness than material things. Recent research from San Francisco State University found that people who spent money on experiences rather than material items were more happier in life.

“We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades.

Essentially, when you can't live in a moment, they say, it's best to live in anticipation of an experience. Waiting for an experience apparently elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good.

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