What Is ‘Sisu’?

It’s the new craze taking us by storm and threatening the Danish and Swedish concepts of ‘hygge’ and ‘lagom’. KATJA PANTZAR and JOANNA NYLUND set out to explain what ‘sisu’ really means…

Katja Pantzar


‘Sisu’ is a Finnish concept, but one that can be used by anyone, anywhere. It’s a form of fortitude, grit and courage in the face of challenges, big and small. Historically, it was to describe victories (sporting or military), where it looked as though it was game-over. The more modern interpretation incorporates anything from winter swimming or jogging, or having difficult a difficult conversation at work… anything that requires an extra bit of energy or oomph. One of the most famous examples came during the Winter War of 1939-40, when Finnish troops managed to outsmart a stronger Soviet army, navigating the dark and temperatures of -40C.

My book has been translated in 22 languages, and I get messages from around the world, but particularly the United States. That’s interesting, because ‘sisu’ is about community. Really good ‘sisu’ is about working together on the big picture issues, such as sustainability. If you look at the famous example, for instance, you’ll note it was an a collective army, not individual soldiers, who took back territory.

Joanna Nylund

Journalist and Photographer

Finland has officially been the happiest country in the world for three years running, and every time that’s announced there’s a renewed interest in ‘sisu’. I did an interview for The Times the other week, and I’m fascinated that our books came out four years ago but it keeps coming up. People, perhaps, think ‘sisu’ is more hands-on and useful than ‘hygge’ or ‘lagom’… when you find yourself in a tight spot, then ‘sisu’ is the thing, as it’s adaptable.

A British guy who has lived in Finland for many years told me he doesn’t think he has ‘sisu’ as he likes being comfortable. This morning we had a blizzard, and it’s nice to be sitting inside wearing a t-shirt knowing I don’t have to go outside, which wasn’t the case here in the past. Still, I think ‘sisu’ will live on in the age of the welfare state as the concept is as much about pulling together as going it alone.

KATJA PANTZAR is a journalist and the author of The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu, available to buy now.

JOANNA NYLUND is a photographer and the author of Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, also available to buy now.

This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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