Sunday, 26 May 2019

Sisu: the finnish art of courage

Finland is the happiest country in the world and Joanne Nylund decided to try to explain why, in a book. The key is in Sisu, the Finnish secret to happiness.

Sisu is a combination of courage, resilience and perseverance in front of a challenge apparently beyond our capabilities.

Although Finns live in the happiest country in the world, they are a bit cold, because in the past the resources were scarce and the climate has always been difficult.

“Finns are known not to smile much, because in our culture  we don´t show emotions freely.”

“Sometimes I think we can be happy without smiling. We smile … but not smiling is also the most ‘reliable’ way to be happy,” Joanna confesses.

The recipe for well-being

Sisu’s definition is at least 500 years old. In the most literal sense, the Sisu refers to the innards within the human body, particularly in the stomach, where human strength is believed to reside, explains Joanne. And the Sisu is what it takes to put one foot in front of the other to climb a mountain.

There are several examples that show how Sisu has helped, over the years. In 1939, when the Soviets invaded Finland in the middle of World War II, the small Finnish army managed to defeat the Russians.

And the winter of 1939 was particularly cold, which turned out to be an advantage for the Finns, because they knew how to ski and had appropriate clothing: a few layers of thick clothes and a last piece of white clothing to camouflage them in the snow. And they did it. Sisu was successful.

“One of the main characteristics of Sisu is the preparation for any situation, which explains why the Finns adapt so well to more uncomfortable situations,” says Joanne Nylund.

And the truth is that the Sisu contradicts the idea that “a man is an island”, because it´s not. According to Joanne, one for all and all for one is a common idea in Finland. “Working together has always brought us success,” says Joanne in the book.

Another aspect of Sisu is nature worship. Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe, but has only five and a half million people. There are large unpopulated areas enjoyed by all, and nature is commonly used as a pantry.

“Thanks to Nordic fruits such as blueberry, red cranberry, wild whiteberry and maritime spine, we have a lot to choose from,” explains Joanne.

Joanne Nylund

The Sisu in communication with others. Or in silence

Speak only when you have something to say – is the Finnish attitude towards communication. The author calls it a “language economy”.

Another aspect in communicating with others is equality: Finland was the first country in the world in 1906 to extend to all women the right to vote and to run in the elections. Nowadays, it is the country where women are more likely to participate in political and economic life.

Equality is important in Finland, and Joanne writes that in marriages both husband and wife share household chores and the education of children. For couples, the most important is trust and to be a team.

“The starting point is respect, even in the heat of a discussion.”  Equality has always been natural.

Grow with Sisu

The writer explains that Sisu allows children’s mistakes to be treated as a “learning tool” and that it is possible to “discover the pleasure of discomfort.” And evolve.

One of the themes Finland is known for is the success of the country’s education system. “The world began to take notice in the early 2000s when the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), revealed Finland at the top of the rankings in several categories,” writes Joanne.

Children begin school (close to seven) and receive a small amount of homework daily. School hours normally ends close to 2 p.m.

Thus, Sisu manifests itself early in children, especially in some key points. “Sisu is an individual capacity but we use it to serve the collective good,” and children are encouraged early on, to defend themselves and not to attack each other. Cases of bullying are rare.

Habits of whoever has Sisu (and is happy)

“I think we’re happy in Finland for a lot of reasons, but I think that above all it´s because we have a very organized society, something that we’ve worked on for a long time.” 

For the writer, happiness is the result of a society that enables Finns to “feel safe,” “to take care of the older” and “to educate their children well.”

This book, “Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage,”  is a guide to “have control over our life and grow the Sisu  in ourselves,” which is “what keep us moving when we feel we cannot go any further.” The important is “to know that happiness begins in us.” Sisu comes later.

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