The Finnish Art of Endurance

By Peter Morgan

Nordic countries seem to specialise in lifestyle concepts that often defy one-word English translations. Keen outdoorsy types may be familiar with the Norwegian (and tongue defying) ‘friluftsliv’ which champions spending time in the wildernessIn the past decade, the Danes have shared the aesthetic comforts of ‘hygge’ much to the delight of inner-city design professionals worldwide.

The stoic Finnish concept of sisu sits at the other end of the lifestyle comfort spectrum. While more pronounceable, as a word, it proves more elusive to define. English speakers can consider a loose translation to be ‘inward resolve’ or ‘perseverance or spirit to persevere through incredible hardships’. For Finns, it is a national spirit and way of life.

Photo – walking across the Gulf of Finland’s frozen waters outside Helsinki. Peter Morgan, 2018

Sisu implies a humble sustained effort or a grind conjuring reserves once thought unthinkable – such as surviving a dark six-month arctic winter living on only bags of salmiakkai. It can also include fighting outnumbered against waves of Soviet invaders (where it found its way to the core of modern Finnish identity and nationalist ethos in 1939-40).

While being stoic, sisu is also a mindset of action. It is a philosophy of resilience that helps cultivate an inner drive that calls out to you “keep going” when giving up seems to be the more comfortable option. It is a simplicity to be utilised in all aspects of daily life, whether studying, swimming in an icy lake, or designing an indestructible mobile phone.

In recent decades, Finland holds the distinction of being routinely ranked amongst the ‘happiest’ nations on earth. However, it also holds higher rates of alcoholism and youth depression than the European average. There is a danger that the reverence of sisu and social expectations of toughness can make it harder for people to seek help when needed.

However, when practised healthily, sisu has the potential to triumph over the Nokia 3310, Angry Birds, and Da Rude’s ‘Sandstorm’ as Finland’s most celebrated cultural export. Combined with mindfulness it might be just what the world needs to get through the remainder of 2020.

Featured image: Peter Morgan, 2018

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