Sisu at the Spanish Positive Psychology Conference 2014

is a psychological potential which enables individuals to tap into mental strength beyond their pre-conceived resources when facing adversity. It can also lead us to power through obstacles which first seem to exceed the boundaries of our mental or physical abilities. Furthermore, this ability contributes to a broader behavioral approach called the action mindset, which is a consistent, courageous take on challenges which far exceed our observed capacities.

Finland may have the first take on sisu as a cultural construct but it is universal capacity for which the potential exists within all individuals. Indeed, there are numerous examples of sisu type of action to be found across different cultures. Somewhat similar constructs are e.g the Yiddish term Chutzpah and the Japanese word gaman. Furthermore, words and constructs matter because they form the foundation of our language and how we communicate. Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that, “The limits of our language mean the limits of our world.” It is only by having the words and constructs to describe 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 the work around sisu: to expand the realms of our language and thinking, and to thus transform the ways in which we can perceive our potential.

Last weekend marked a joyous milestone for sisu (and the noble art of expanding the limits of our worlds) as it was presented at the National Spanish Conference on Positive Psychology at Oropesa del Mar, Castellón by Merche Ovejero Bruna and Marta Velázquez. I feel humbled and deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to advise the first ever cross-cultural exploration of sisu (and within just a year after the beginning of the work). Furthermore, it was truly uplifting to witness the sincere passion and energy of these two brilliant ladies as they embarked to examine something completely new. Everyone, this is how trailblazing is done : ) Merche and Marta are both a great example of the kind of courage, motivation and engagement which is in the very heart of the action mindset itself.

Marta Velázquez and Mercedes Ovejero Bruna with their Sisu poster!
Marta Velázquez and Mercedes Ovejero Bruna with the Sisu poster : )

The poster was titled ‘Sisu y sentido vital: primeros indicadores en la cultura
española’. In addition to presenting the term rasmia as a construct potentially related to sisu, Marta and Merche suggest that sisu may be linked to psychological vitality. (I find this a fascinating idea and look forward to its further examination as soon as the sisu scale is up and running!) Here you can see the full Sisu Poster. On the right, our two tenacious sisu warriors next to their poster.

As indicated in my thesis work from MAPP, it may be highly beneficial to put together an expansive repository of the representations and empowering narratives of sisu across different cultures. Humans are an incredibly resilient species and there doesn’t seem to be an end to our ability to endure extreme stress and bounce back from failure.

However, this resilience (and sisu) is often the result of a deeply elaborate mix of social, biological and cultural factors. In addition to our personal tendencies, our surrounding environment sets certain boundaries to our behavior and to the type of resources and opportunities we have access to. Furthermore, it is suggested that we learn quickest through modeling the behavior of others around us (Social learning theory by A. Bandura, 1971). I propose that also sisu is partially born as a result of particular cultural climate and can be therefore fostered and cultivated through conscious effort. We are in the very beginning of this exciting work. The usefulness of all this will be evaluated through what comes next, as well as through the practical value it will hopefully yield in the years to come.

sisu begins where perseverance and grit end Emilia Lahti quote FinlandFuture research on sisu will focus on exploring the construct within various contexts from education and individual empowerment to broader social change, but especially to helping survivors of different types of trauma. Right now we are communicating with researchers and experts working with a range of people from cancer patients, and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking to army vets with PTSD.

The ultimate goal of this effort is to lead to action and yield empowering solutions that help alleviate human suffering and increase well-being on a global scale.

Thank you Merche and Marta for being the trailblazers that you are and seeing into ‘what might be’, as well as to all of you everyday warriors displaying sisu and action mindset in your lives.

Yours in sisu,

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