Money, Leisure, and Death. One excerpt:
Money, you will say, is already taught in college. More students than ever enroll in business programs, and economics is among the most popular academic majors. But I am speaking about money in personal and philosophical ways that these academic subjects don’t take up.
This means thinking about money in a larger context: How important is it to you, and how much of it do you need to lead the life you want? Tolstoy addresses these questions cogently in his short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” In it, a peasant farmer is told that he can own as much land as he can encircle in a day. The man sets his sights high, pushing himself to run around a very large space, and when he finishes, drops dead.
Death supplies the context for thinking deeply about money and leisure. I find it strange, whenever I teach a Shakespeare tragedy, to see how many students have never considered the simple fact that they will eventually die. When we read the speech from the end of Act V in Hamlet, commonsensical as it is, it can take them by surprise: “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” Thinking about mortality is humbling; it opens us more fully to the richness of life when we are aware of how fleeting our time on earth is. The prospect of death can help us to see more clearly how we want to spend our lives.
For what it’s worth, I like to think I spent at least some time during my undergraduate study contemplating some of these issues. Without a doubt, few subjects motivate and instill meaning like thoughts of the inevitability of death.