“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”
This statement, penned in German by Albert Einstein, was given as a tip to a Japanese courier in 1922, shortly after Einstein learned he had been awarded a Nobel Prize.
In October 2017, Einstein’s note went up for auction and reached a staggering $1.56 million, but his philosophy on happiness has never been valued as highly. That’s because it goes against a trend we all exhibit, dating back to Adam and Eve: the constant allure of wanting to be something we’re not or have something we don’t possess. It’s the oldest drug in human history, creating a practically universal dependency.
The irony lies in the fact that even when we publicly acknowledge Einstein’s wisdom, deep down, we spend most of our lives believing or at least suspecting something different. This explains why, despite all we’ve discovered or even lived ourselves, sooner or later, we revert to that original, unhappy addiction.
The perfidy of this addiction lies in its transformation of a natural and commendable desire for growth and development into compulsive snobbery, one that perpetually links our happiness to the next step. The human ideal inherently includes the pursuit of excellence, but for entirely different reasons. The Bible encapsulates it as follows: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; Matthew 5:48). In other words, God always intended for humans to be like Him, He created them that way, and wanted them to remain that way eternally. What’s astonishing is that the devil successfully convinced our forebears that they weren’t like God, that they were lacking something to achieve that status—something they would get by biting into a forbidden fruit. The ridiculousness of the situation can be summed up thus: someone to whom God had revealed and made available everything needed for happiness, was convinced by someone else that they needed something more.
This type of manipulation mechanism is well-recognized from the study of advertisements. Since, on a practical level, we have a limited need for goods, businesses strive to create new needs for us, needs that their products can fulfil. The futility, as Einstein put it, lies in the fact that this carousel, perpetually propelling us forward in the pursuit of happiness, doesn’t truly deliver on its promises. It’s what the Bible vividly describes as “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17).
Hence, despite the compulsive buying, we remain depressed. The moments of happiness that accompany a new purchase only widen the chasm of needing more. A new outfit, a new car, a new house provide a few moments or days of satisfaction and a long string of regrets for what we can’t have.
Simultaneously, eating simply and less, earning less, and owning simpler and fewer things are often seen as details in a dull, monochrome picture. While expensive simplicity is a trend, cheap, easily attainable simplicity is generally considered shameful, a sign of weakness and inability. But if Einstein and many others who thought and spoke like him are right, then simplicity has the power to build a house for happiness.
The beauty of it is that simplicity doesn’t have a single recipe. It’s not uniform. It can take as many forms as there are individuals, and that’s why it devalues competition. Its essence remains the same, and this doesn’t mean sacrifice or survival, but a shedding of all that is burdensome or born from the deceptive need for more, for appearing richer or more powerful. It’s about setting aside everything with artificially created value to see what intrinsically matters, forgetting objects that demand adoration to make room for those that serve without enslaving. Simplicity works on our minds and hearts much like nature restores an ecosystem after human intervention ceases. Moreover, simplicity yields time. In the absence of non-essential items, we rediscover the essential: people, the beauty of relationships, the transformative power of love, and the simplicity of the recipe for happiness.
The biblical Sabbath, lived as suggested by the Bible itself and not according to human traditions that have distorted its essence, embodies simplicity and its benefits. The God who created humans in His image invites them to a weekly celebration of their relationship, a time for complete recovery and reconnection, an opportunity for recharging and reaffirming the beliefs and feelings that nourish a balanced, healthy, and fulfilling life. In reality, we don’t need more things or achievements. We need more trust, peace, love, and purpose. It’s not about desperately chasing happiness but about stopping and settling contentedly in the place where happiness resides.
And happiness, like snow flakes so light that they don’t settle on someone in motion, falls upon those who, although still moving, have actually stopped.