Lahti is keen to stress that many other cultures have comparable concepts: the Japanese ‘ganbaru’, which means going tenaciously through rough times. There is also the ‘stiff upper lip’ that the British have been proud of for centuries.
But it is sisu, in particular, that seems to have captured the imagination abroad. This may be due, in part, to the idea that Nordic countries hold the secret of personal fulfilment.
Before sisu, the world came to admire another Nordic export, the Danish (and Norwegian) idea of ‘hygge’, which means comfortable cosiness and conviviality, and Swedish ‘lagom’, which is all about balance and moderation and simplicity. As I write this, another Finnish pastime is threatening to edge sisu out of the limelight. It’s ‘kalsarikännit’, which means ‘getting drunk in your underwear at home’. A new emoji has already appeared for this concept.
Many want to believe that these Finnish ways of doing things could make us happy and independent, as some Finns are. In reality it’s the investment needed in education and social provision that makes people feel more fulfilled in their lives.
Sisu clearly isn’t the only explanation for Finnish success, but Gustafsson is adamant that the country would not be the same without it. “If it had not been for sisu, I would have been speaking Russian to you,” he tells me – a reminder of the Soviet attack in 1939 when Finland managed to preserve its independence.
Wherever you live, that same spirit of resilience is still worth remembering today, says Gustafsson: “The biggest obstacles are between our ears, what we tell ourselves.”
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