Einstein's handwritten notes to a bellboy while traveling in Japan in 1922 fetched $1.8 million at a Jerusalem auction. Picture: AP Photo/File

Washington - He is known as one of the great minds in 20th-century science. But this week, Albert Einstein is making headlines for his advice on how to live a happy life, and a tip that paid off.

In November 1922 Einstein was traveling from Europe to Japan for a speaking tour when he learned he'd been awarded his field's highest prize: the Nobel Prize in physics. The award recognized his contributions to theoretical physics.

News of Einstein's arrival spread quickly through Japan, and thousands of people flocked to catch a glimpse of the Nobel laureate. Impressed but also embarrassed by the publicity, Einstein tried to write down his thoughts and feelings from his secluded hotel room.

That's when the messenger arrived with a delivery and Einstein found himself without any money for a tip.

Instead, Einstein wrote two short notes and handed it to the messenger. If you are lucky, the notes themselves would someday be worth more than some spare change, Einstein supposedly said.

Those autographed notes, in which Einstein offered his thoughts on how to live a happy and fulfilling life, sold at a Jerusalem auction house Tuesday for a combined $1.8 million (about R25 million).

"A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness," read one of the notes, written in German from the Imperial Hotel Tokyo in November 1922.

It just sold for $1.56 million (about R21 million). The letter had originally been estimated to sell for between $5 000 (nearly R69 000) and $8 000 (about R110 000), according to the Winner's Auctions and Exhibitions' website.

Gal Wiener, CEO of the auction house, said the bidding on that note began at $2 000 (R27 000) and continued to escalate for about 25 minutes, AP reported.

"When there's a will, there's a way," read the other note, written on a blank sheet of paper. That note sold at auction for $240 000 (about R3.2 million) and was initially estimated to sell for a high of $6 000 (about R82 000).

The seller was reported to be a relative of the messenger. Neither the buyer's nor the seller's identity has been made public.

Roni Grosz, the archivist overseeing the Einstein archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Japan Times that the notes help uncover the innermost thoughts of a scholar whose public profile was synonymous with scientific genius.

"What we're doing here is painting the portrait of Einstein - the man, the scientist, his effect on the world - through his writings," Grosz said. "This is a stone in the mosaic."

Einstein was among the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and gave the university's first scientific lecture in 1923. He willed his personal archives, as well as the rights to his works, to the institution.

Einstein was still traveling during the Nobel award ceremony in December 1922, so he was absent when the chairperson of the Nobel Committee for Physics said that "there is probably no physicist living today whose name has become so widely known as that of Albert Einstein."

Perhaps Einstein would have settled for something more "calm and modest."