The Formula for Success and Happiness and Maybe the Meaning of Life

In a 1929 interview with the New York Times, Albert Einstein came up with his formula for success.

It looks like this: A = X + Y + Z

He said, “A is Success, while X is Work, Y is Play, and Z is Keeping Your Mouth Shut.”

If we read into it, we kind of get a feel for where his head was at, especially with the “keeping your mouth shut” part.


Seven years before that, in 1922, Einstein was in a hotel room in Tokyo, Japan when a messenger knocked on his door with a package.  Instead of giving the messenger a monetary tip, he gave him a handwritten note on hotel stationary. The note was written in German and signed by Einstein.

Being Japanese, the messenger had no idea what the note said.  Translated, it says, “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”

Whoa …

When he wrote the note, he had just won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  He was pondering everything it took for him to achieve that level of recognition; an arduous pursuit of success.  And once again, we get some insight into where his head is.

You can hear his feelings in the note that the pursuit and even reaching a goal does not necessarily equal happiness and even if it did bring happiness, what was the cost?  Is it all really worth it? 

By the way, that note is now referred to as Einstein’s Happiness Theory and it recently sold for $1.5 million at auction.     

In pondering Einstein’s 1922 “Happiness Theory” and his 1929 “Formula for Success”, I went on a deep and wide research journey and constructed a formula that combines and expands upon his theory and formula.

I’m not a math guy, so my letters are literal, representing actual words.  However, I did keep Einstein’s “A” for success, “X” for work, and “Y” for play, while I removed the “Z” for “keeping your mouth shut” with the understanding that his mood was understandably cynical during that interview.

My formula for success and happiness looks like this: AH = R(X + Y + W + B + M + I)-f

While success and happiness aren’t the same thing, they are very closely related, so we’re solving for “AH”.  The “R” governs everything that follows, while that “-f” at the end is a caveat.  Yes, my math has caveats.

A is success and H is happiness, while R is reality.  Reality governs everything.  It’s neither for us, nor against us; it just is and it’s up to us to navigate it’s waters.  Not a single one of us is so important that the universe is somehow out to get us.  It’s not.

X is work.  The harder and smarter we work, the easier life gets.  Seek, learn, train, practice and keep going throughout life.  The rewards are grand and exponential.  Want to earn more, achieve more; we gotta be worth more.  Be valuable.

Y is play.  Maybe more important than work, play is crucial to our emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing.  Relax, find laughter, seek it out, and enjoy.

W is the way.  We’re bombarded with the concept of goals, goal-setting, quotas, and so on.  But, none of these things “happen” without the way.  The goal IS the way and the way is the goal.  Know the direction, go and love the process, be in the way.  Do this right and goals just happen as a byproduct along the journey. 

B is for be.  I guest-present/teach at high schools and I ask students what they want to do.  I get answers like, “I want to be an artist”, “I want to go to school to be an interior designer”, and other answers to the same effect; “I want to …”.  If it’s in you; I mean you’ve been painting, sculpting, designing, playing music, and creating since you were a kid, so then … aren’t you an artist?  It’s in your heart and your soul and yeah, maybe you could use further education, training, and experience to refine your skills, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are a f*cking artist.  You always have been.  Be.

M is meaning.  What is the meaning of life?  Well, that is up to each of us as individuals, isn’t it?  But, what if the answer is so simple that we miss it?  What if it’s like dancing?  There’s no real purpose to dancing, but we do it because it makes us feel alive.  We feel the vibrations, hear the music and it moves us.  There’s no goal or point to dancing, nor should there be.  It is only to be enjoyed.  As for life, it’s not something to “get through”; it’s to be lived. 

I is for realizing our impossible existence.  The odds of any one of us being here, at this time, as we are, is 400-Trillion to one.  That number is so big, mathematicians don’t even like talking in those terms.  Basically, its an impossibility. A zero chance.  Yet, here we are.  Here we are on a speck of dust, floating in a universe so vast, it’s incomprehensible and only for a very miniscule sliver of time.  “Fuck! This line is long!  Can’t they get another cash register opened?!” 

And -F is the caveat.  Give less Fucks. 

And as for Success (A) and Happiness (H), by what metrics are we measuring?  When does it happen?  When do we arrive?  Where’s my damn pizza; it’s been 30 minutes!

Neither is a destination.  They are a way of being.


Photo by Redd on Unsplash

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