Ever wonder why Finnish middle-aged women spend most of their holidays at the summer cottage, in the middle of a forest, in a wooden cabin without electricity and running water or any basic commodities and appliances? Or why do they jump into the ice-cold water after having spent 20 minutes in the 100 degrees of the sauna? Sisu, part of their innate national character, explains it all.
The courage to change things
Sisu is a Finnish word that describes the character of a person armed with stoic determination, the tenacity of purpose, willpower, bravery and resilience. It is an action-oriented mindset, a “mode” that turns on when you take up on a challenge that is seemingly beyond your capacities. People equipped with sisu are less likely to give up in front of difficulties: they will continue to run through a marathon even when most of their competitors have quit because of the unsupportable heat.
Living out of the comfort zone, that is what sisu-people thrive on.
Sisu to me means never giving up. And I mean never, ever, ever – Joanna Nylund writes in her book ‘Sisu, the Finnish art of courage‘. – Sisu is the courage to change things when they have to change. And, fundamentally, it’s the courage to like yourself for who you are. Strong people, like trees, might break, whereas a person with sisu may bend but can always pull themselves back into place.
How to sprinkle sisu into your life
Sisu can be a life-saver when our hectic schedules make us struggle to stay on track with work, family and all related activities. The Finns are known to be very organised, responsible and hard-working and the saying “hyvin suunniteltu on puoliksi tehty” (being well prepared is half the job done) applies to any field and occasion.
But you don’t have to be Finnish to tap into your inner sisu, just check out these brilliant quick wins:
- When you plan your frenetic week ahead by preparing some meals in advance, writing down the daily schedules and all the rides the family needs to and from the house, your days will roll much more smoothly. Getting the whole family involved in the planning ensures everyone is committed and on track.
- An important aspect of finding our sisu is also taking care of the basic needs – eating healthily, getting enough sleep and doing plenty of exercises. Including them in the weekly calendar will make them happen.
- Declutter your mind and block out the noise and chaos that surrounds you to fully concentrate and listen to what you need. So at least once a day, allocate 10-15 minutes to meditation, yoga, prayer or deep-breathing exercises that help you stay grounded and centred on your objectives.
Finns are also truly outdoors people who love to spend time skiing, skating, pole walking (a sport invented by us), and sliding on the iced lakes or in the snow-filled forests. Facing those adverse climate conditions and managing to complete the day’s training program gives a Finn an enormous dose of endorphin and sense of achievement. When the weather is gloomy, it is not inviting to get dressed and leave the warmth of your house. But it is scientifically proven that a 30/40-minute walk in the fresh air has tons of benefits both for the body and the mind. So, no excuses, equip yourself with proper rain gear and start your daily hikes, whether in the city neighbourhood or out in a nearby forest path.
The joke “Finns know how to be silent in several languages” says it all about their way of communicating. They can support silence for long periods and are good listeners that do not interrupt the counterpart but actively and respectfully observe and memorize what they have to say. Silence is not considered awkward, but rather a powerful tool. It requires full presence and concentration and allows all parties to relax and excel in that particular moment.
Another trait of Finnish communication is being very direct. What might seem too curt, pragmatic or down-right rude to other cultures, to Finnish is expressing themselves with truth and integrity. Sugar-coating your message can only make it confusing: stating the honest truth in a respectful manner, especially in business negotiations, is in most cases wiser. Thanks to their sisu determined and non-dramatic way of communication, Finns are also great at facing crisis and resolving conflicts. You won’t see them having a melt-down or causing a scene, no matter how difficult the situation.
You can apply sisu–communication to your relationships with family and friends: when all parties listen to each other attentively, are open and truthful about their expectations, and clearly and respectfully communicate their needs and wants, everyone is on the same page, relaxed and happy.
The science of happiness
Cultivating sisu can help you lead a life of greater purpose and happiness.
A significant part of our happiness is determined by how we face adversaries – the Finnish philosopher Frank Martela said to Pshicology Today. – Sisu, as an attitude of commitment and refusal to give in, can help us in these situations. Instead of taking the challenges as failures or as evidence that one is not happy, one almost welcomes them as a chance to show what one is made of. Thus, I believe that the better one is in facing adversaries with an accepting and courageous attitude, the easier it is to experience well-being and happiness, even when life is not making it easy for one.
Communicating with integrity and respect will most likely make your relationships more straight-forward and fulfilling. Enjoying the outdoors and getting lots of exercises will grant a sense of physical well-being that inevitably improves your mental state as well. Finding the courage to tackle new situations and get out of your comfort zone will help overcome past fears and settle your life to a whole new, more satisfying level. And what better time to start than midlife, when we are mature enough to make our own, pondered choices, yet still young to change the course of our lives.
Pocket Finnish sisu vocabulary
Sisukas = adjective, a person full of sisu
Sisulla = and action completed with sisu
Sisu, sauna ja salmiakki (salty liquorice) = the three “esses” that help the Finns “get through the grey stone”
Words and Illustration by Hanna Suni – Hame Design Studio. Finnish graphic designer and illustrator, Art Director of L’Iguana editrice, with great expertise in public relations, marketing and communication, Hanna has joined CrunchyTales as senior contributor and ‘artist in residence’