What is sisu? I don’t really know. I have heard this term for the first time last week when I and my journalist friends were lectured about the history of Finland. Professor Maiju Wuokko from the University of Helsinki told us that ‘sisu’ represents the character of Finnish people. To put it in English vocabularies, the closest meaning to this term might be grit or gut.
It was also last week that I had my first Finnish sauna experience. The temperature inside the room was so hot that I could barely stand, and suddenly you were recommended to swim in the cold Baltic Sea. After doing this for a couple of times, I surprisingly enjoyed it and started to wonder that this activity might be related to sisu. Never give up and happiness will wait for you at the end. That was just my early concept which could be totally wrong.
Today we had a great opportunity to explore deeper into the world of sisu with Katja Pantzar, author of the best-selling book ‘Finding Sisu: In Search of Courage, Strength and Happiness the Finnish Way’ which has its rights sold in more than 20 territories including my home country Thailand.
She first described sisu as the word that all the Finns are familiar with, but a lot of references come from historical events such as the victory over the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939-1940 as only the Finnish army was able to withstand the extremely cold temperature, and Lasse Virén, a Finnish long-distance runner who fell in 1972 Olympic Games 10,000-meter race but finally won gold medal and set a new world record.
However, Katja noticed that the Finns also have real ‘sisu’ in everyday live including ice swimming or riding bike in the middle of winter. “It is these great feats that people do when they are in really challenging situations instead of giving up, but also a kind of daily attitude of trying to push yourself a little to do things and just go a little bit further, and a lot of things relate to well-being”, said a Finnish-born writer who sees Finland from the outsider’s perspective as she grew up in Canada.
This fruitful conversation helped me expand my knowledge about sisu. I learned that it is not limited to only one’s life. Sisu also means that people are doing something together for a good cause. So I’m not surprised why Finland always ranks among the best in the world. It’s because Finnish people never stops trying to build a better society.
You can see from a great number of policies and social experiments that Finland has pioneered. For example, this Nordic country was the first to start giving out ‘Maternity Package’ in 1938, it was the first to adopt the ‘Housing First Policy’ to tackle homelessness as a national program in 2008, and the first to do ‘Basic Income Experiment’ on a nationwide basis which is still going on.
Although sisu is the Finnish character, Katja thinks anyone can develop their own healthy version of sisu. Her suggestion is to start step by step, begin with little things in life, try to continue doing it, and also know when to stop or reevaluate the situation.
I have begun my sisu by trying to finish this blog within a night which I normally don’t. So if you’re reading this article right now, it means that my first small step in mastering the sisu lifestyle is considered successful.
Now it’s your turn to sisu it up!