On November 25th 1915, Albert Einstein presented his general theory of relativity—the by-product of almost a decade’s dedicated work—to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

This two-page masterpiece would propel Einstein to global fame, and cement his legacy as one of the greatest physicists of all-time.

A few days prior, Einstein wrote a letter to his 11-year-old son, Hans Albert, who was living with his second son, Eduard “Tete,” and estranged wife, Mileva, in Vienna.

In the letter, which can be found in Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children, Einstein shares advice to his son, Hans Albert, on creativity, passion and the secret to learning anything.

Einstein letter to son Hans Albert

Image of Einstein playing with his son, Hans Albert. Image credit: Genie.

Here’s the brief letter to his son:

My dear Albert,

Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it.

I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort.

I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you.

What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano.

This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those.

That is the way to learn the most, when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.

I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .

Be with Tete kissed by your Papa.

Regards to Mama.

Optimal Learning Flows from Enjoyment

“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.”

– Bertrand Russell

It’s easy to ignore the simplicity of Einstein’s advice to do “something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that time passes.”

But various scientific studies, especially the work of prominent psychologist, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi , mirrors Einstein’s observations in what is known as “flow” —a state of being fully immersed in the process of an activity.

In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi suggests that this flow state is the optimal experience for learning, creativity, happiness and productivity. And it’s most likely to occur whilst performing an activity for intrinsic purposes—that is, for its own satisfying internal rewards. [1]

In other words, the more we enjoy an activity for the sake of it, the more likely we’ll experience flow and its benefits.

We may never become as prominent as Einstein, but by shifting our focus away from the goal and towards the process, we can also tap into our inner creative genius and become the best we can be at what we do.


Footnotes

1. Delle Fave, A., & Bassi, M. (2000). The quality of experience in adolescents’ daily lives: Developmental perspectives. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs.

2. Schüler, J. (2007). Arousal of flow experience in a learning setting and its effects on exam performance and affect. German Journal of Educational Psychology.

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