Today is the approximate date of the Winter Solstice, which is where the shortest day of the year resides. Here in Stockholm, that translates to something like over 6 hours of daylight, of which all could easily be obscured by clouds to yield days that may be nothing but overcast twilight between civil dawn and dusk. I have heard people refer to the long, dark days of winter, and, now at the Winter Solstice, I have seen it firsthand. Not that I would complain. The darkness is comforting. I have not had to worry about sunblock or sunglasses for over a month now, and it has been consistently pleasant.

In addition to it being the Solstice, we are also approaching Christmas. Going about the city center, one cannot possibly miss all the Christmas decorations bedecking the street lights, mall facades and windows of residential areas everywhere. The Christmas Markets are out in force, serving glögg and other festive goodies. The acts of consumption and festivities make me think of the concept of the leisure class: Living in an urban center, one is surrounded by opportunities to acquire goods from all across the world, often with the means to do so (relative to many who have a far tougher time living similarly) and possessing the surplus resources to dedicate to travel and self-enrichment.

When I went about, I saw many households with bookshelves by the windows decorated with the North Star and fairy lights Christmas decorations, passing marinas with docked pleasure boats and the occasional ski slope within the city. For some, perhaps this is somewhat normal. Coming from a city with a different culture, I see some of these phenomena as what some may regard as aspirational luxuries (i.e. something people would travel over to enjoy) and occasionally as celebratory features that are typically left to those with greater dedication to the festivities (typically in Singapore, Christmas decorations are seen more on storefronts than at one’s window).

Observing this led me to think about the difference in culture between Singapore and Stockholm. Singapore is characterised by a fanatical drive to dedicate oneself to hard work partly out of a fear of losing out (Kiasuism), and partly to support aspirational spending to check off the consumeristic targets that any well-off person is expected to spend on. Conversely, the concept of Lagom in Sweden tempers the drive to acquire, with a sort of balance that redirects some of the productive energies to self-actualization and generally to opportunities to unwind.

I have been considering the motivations behind frenetic production and complacent relaxation, and realized that one puts productivity foremost when one feels a sense of lack. That is, when someone has a fear of not having enough, or to be put in a situation in the unspecified future where one will not have enough, one will do everything one can to secure that future by gathering as many resources as possible to form a reserve. Conversely, in the case of those with a comparative sense of plenty, that drive to productivity is reduced, and one simply does what is necessary to survive and dedicates surplus resources elsewhere.

As one who likes competition and topping leaderboards, the concept of hanging back is somewhat alien, and in fact feels grossly inefficient. Yet, I have also seen how burnout can occur where one attempts to cut all inefficiencies out of one’s lifestyle and aims to be nothing but productive instead. Clearly, there is a comfortable middle ground somewhere out there between the two extremes.

Such considerations lead me to consider other matters, such as how one should allocate one’s risk budget. I define the risk budget as the proportion of one’s productive resources one will dedicate towards risky productive endeavours as opposed to known and predictable activities. As someone who likes optimization and reducing volatility, I am generally biased towards a low risk budget, engaging in fewer activities that are not known/certain to yield profit. Yet, I also recognize that going too far on this side favors linear gains and closes off opportunities to gain from the unexpected. Conversely, an outsized risk budget is akin to one spending way too much on lottery tickets and not enough on food.

Thinking about this as a whole, I have come to consider that there is something to the fearlessness of those who can live the life of the leisure class that will allow one to increase the risk budget and essentially buy additional lottery tickets, but also to avoid the complacency that comes with comfort which will negate any risk inclination that may arise from that increased security. As I sit here thinking of all the snow that fell and melted, waiting for the temperatures to drop further around me, I am eagerly awaiting new lessons that will inevitably follow from an attitude of ongoing observation.