Finland, Denmark and Sweden are admired by their unique way of life. We all have our own quirky means of underlining our national identity. In fact, our little individual oddities are so deeply rooted in everyday life, that we don’t even think about it much. Yet, they might seem very bizarre to everyone else.
In Finland, we have “SISU”. It is a word that we use to describe a typical Finnish personality and includes all kinds of traits: stubbornness, stamina and bravery, resilience and stoic determination, just to name a few. The word “sisu” doesn’t really have a literal equivalent in English, the closest I can think of could be “gutsy”.
Sisu can also be conceptualised as taking action against all the odds. This mainly has to do with our weather and our nordic nature. If you came for a visit in the middle of winter, you probably think you’ll freeze to death and collapse under piles of snow or get depressed because of the darkness. And during summertime, you’ll have to learn how to sleep with too much light and lots of mosquitoes. This might seem devastating to a visitor, but we just carry on as usual, with the determination and temperament of our Finnish sisu. I can’t think of any time where snow storms or heat waves would have closed schools or stopped people from getting to work. We simply carry on as usual, maybe complaining about it a little, but secretly proud of how tough we are.
Look to Torikorttelit
Usually, the first thing to do in Helsinki is to look into ”Torikorttelit”, recently restored blocks of old buildings right next to our beautiful Cathedral and Senate Square. The blocks are an excellent example of our sisu: originally built when Finland was still a conceptualised country stuck between two powerful neighbours, the Kingdom of Sweden and the Empire of Russia. Without getting into too much politics, let’s just say, that we slowly built our own identity between the two. In Torikorttelit, you’ll find lovely shops with Finnish Design, created with lots of sisu! It is our trademark to keep things clean, simple and practical but at the same time, appealing and stylish.
My favourite shop in Torikorttelit is Lapuan kankurit. They are a fourth-generation family business with deep roots in using ecological materials and historical references, beautifully translated into modern design. Lapuan kankurit creates beautiful textiles at their own mill in Lapua. Their products really pamper my soul, and their shop is among the most visited attractions by Japanese tourists as well as many others. I borrowed the pictures for this text from Lapuan kankurit, because I think they reach the essence of Finnish psyche better than anyone.
Heroes and Heroines
In our national history, melancholic heroes and heroines fight the forces of nature, tackle conflicts with much larger opponents. And fight their way up from oppression and struggle. To this day, we don’t really show off or boast about anything, we just settle for comfortable well-being in our own, slightly introverted way. I have even read suggestions, that positive psychology research could benefit from focusing future interest on the unique cultural resource of Sisu that individuals across the globe can leverage.
If you want to learn more about sisu, I highly recommend Katja Pantzar’s book ”Finding Sisu: In Search of Courage, Strength and Happiness the Finnish Way”. I know her, and she’s a perfect model of a healthy, smart, ice swimming, primus motor -kind of a Finn.