Sisu as a Finnish cultural term relating to individual’s capacity to endure hardship was introduced to the positive psychology community in the 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology in Los Angeles on June 29th, 2013. The reception from the audience was encouraging and I was also deeply touched by the stories from people who came to share their experiences after the presentation. It is staggering how strong the human spirit can be, and how we can often craft meaning and purpose into our lives through the hardships we encounter.
Adversities are a natural part of the human experience, but what is it that enables us to endure the roughest of situations and to begin anew? What keeps us going, when we feel we have reached the end of our abilities?
The small Nordic country of Finland has a cultural construct known as ´sisu´, used to describe the enigmatic power that enables individuals to push through unbearable hardships. The term dates back hundreds of years, and is a central part of Finnish collective discourse. Sisu is fortitude, perseverance and indomitable determination in the face of extreme adversity.
Sisu is about tapping into mental strength beyond their pre-conceived resources, and to push through the boundaries of those mental or physical abilities. This contributes to a broader behavioral approach which I call the action mindset; a consistent, courageous view toward challenges which far exceed our observed capacities. Sisu is what provides the final empowering push, when we would otherwise hesitate to act. It also involves keeping one´s word, being honest and standing up for one´s values. To me personally, sisu is more than just a word; it is a philosophy and a way of life.
Finland may have the first take on sisu as a cultural construct, but sisu is a universal potential which exists within all individuals.
Only by having the words and constructs to define the phenomena around us can we strive to describe it, and therefore to understand more, and to become more. This is one of the main prerogatives of my work: to expand the realms of our language and thinking, and to thus transform the ways in which we can perceive our potential. Sisu is a new term in the field of positive psychology, and it may perhaps contribute to our understanding of the determinants of resilience as well as achievement.