The Day of Sisu on February 28th!

Adversities are a natural part of the human experience. Full stop.

We’re all nodding and agree on this, right?

But seriously, how often do we find it unreasonably difficult to speak about the hard stuff. You know, when we feel we are really struggling with something, feeling helpless or inadequate. When we feel we are not strong or good enough. One case, where this is extremely clear, is when we discuss topics that relate to psychological pain or mental illness. (Violent trauma and sexual abuse, that I also research, tend go into this box of uncomfortable topics to not blurt out at a dinner table.) We brag about the cast on our broken leg but go to extreme lengths to hide emotional pain or experiences that relate depression and anxiety.

While we are fragile enough to be knocked down by something as small as a microbe, we also possess enormous strength to overcome seemingly impossible situations. What keeps coming up in my data is that even though the potential of ‘sisu’ is something within the individual, it is often best unlocked through the social dimension: with help from our friends. We hold great power to help each other remain resilient and hold on when things get tough.

Day of Sisu is an Idea Whose Time Has Come

Sisu is an age-old construct that originates from the small Nordic country of Finland. In 2015, we decided to dedicate ONE FULL DAY each year to celebrate sisu i.e. the strength that resides within all individuals, and while doing so, help each other be courageous in the small and big decisions of our life.

Here is just some of the cool stuff that happened last year:

An inaugural Day of Sisu event was held in Helsinki in the presence of about 250 people (check out the great photos taken by Sami Paju) and it kicked off an entire year dedicated to sisu. (A year, which looked absolutely gorgeous thanks to many people, but especially one lady called Minna Hiltunen at Mirum Agency.

One of my personal highlights was to witness the kind, caring and gritty Marco Bjurström MC the event with such exemplary tact and professionalism. What’s extra noteworthy, is that because we were running on a tight budget with not wanting to charge an entry fee and have the event be open to everyone, this Finland’s top host and speaker was willing to contribute his time, effort and talent pro bono (seriously, for hugs). Thank you, Marco. So much admiration and gratitude for you.

In awe of this unique Finn, who brings so much soul, humility and kindness into his sisu. Marco Bjurström and moi at the Day of Sisu event on February 28, 2015. Photo: Sami Paju

During 2015 we teamed up with the acclaimed photojournalist Meeri Koutaniemi and PS-Kustannus to publish a gorgeous book on sisu that features 14 interviews with some extraordinarily stellar and courageous individuals. To celebrate this, Academy of Philosophy threw yet another unforgettable sisu event at Korjaamo in Helsinki. Photos of the book launch can be found here.

Lauri Järvilehto, the Founder of Academy of Philosophy, at the Sisu book launch on October 15, 2015. Photo: Hilla Kurki

Our team together with PS-kustannus organized a photo exhibit to show off the magnificent images taken by Meeri. Within the same welcoming space at Lasipalatsi, we opened a space for people to share their stories of overcoming obstacles and tapping into sisu. During these events, I had the pleasure to host and interview the author of Future Makers Tuuti Piippo, the legendary foreign correspondent, film producer and adventurer extraordinaire Rauli Virtanen and FighBack guru, brain injury survivor Pekka Hyysalo regarding their secrets to overcoming extreme obstacles.

That’s a sweet dose of sisu and smiles <3 Sisu Lab at Lasipalatsi in October 2015. Photo: Henna Santalahti/Ps-kustannus

We organized numerous big and small events in Finland and abroad, there were radio shows and TV interviews and our stellar Sonja Strömsholm and Joonas Pesonen from Academy of Philosophy ran training sessions for the upcoming Slush to get them in the sisu mindset. There was even a massive poster campaign that brought Meeri Koutaniemi’s sisu photos to nearly every bus and metro stand in Finland.

Sisu poster.jpg
Obinna Obieze was one the six faces of sisu that adorned the streets of Finland in March 2015. Image: Meeri Koutaniemi. Design and artwork: Minna Hiltunen/ Mirum

We were thrilled to get some very special support from abroad in the form of wonderful sisu greetings by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former US Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck and University of Pennsylvania research professor Angela Duckworth.

“Our story has been that of sisu.”- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Furthermore, the global Hour of Sisu (organized for the first time on March 10th, 2015) inspired encouraging and at times, rather touching testimonials from people all over the world taking action to overcome their (sometimes long-held) fears, and to do things that were more or less outside their usual comfort zone.

Now, it’s the time to revisit that space.

There seems to be so much more strength to us than meets the eye at given moment. Often we don’t seem to be aware of that potential and are bogged down by fear of failure, fear of not being good enough. The Day of Sisu is a call to action to recognize and celebrate the strength that resides within each one of us, and transcends beyond cultural and geographical boundaries.

Sisu and the will to persevere are a universal language.

We at Sisu Lab and Academy of Philosophy believe that cultivating sisu carries potential not only for empowering isolated individuals here and there, but for elevating our collective capacity in a way that is conducive to system-wide flourishing and a better future.

sisu definition final sisu lab quotes

How to celebrate the Day of Sisu from anywhere in the world


  • Join by organizing an event within your local community on the Day of Sisu, February 28th. This can be a meetup, workout, race, story group or any kind of (big or small) get-together to share your stories on sisu and create pockets of social support within your neighborhood. In 2015, LA-based director Park Cofield organized an event for people to come together to share their experiences of sisu. In addition, he wrote the attached post to share some of his thoughts regarding the topic. These words by Einstein are a good reminder: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”


  • Join us for another Hour of Sisu Challenge on February 28th! During one hour (e.g. between 5 PM and 6 PM your local time) you are encouraged to do one thing that you know would benefit you, but which you have been putting off. It may be something that makes you feel uneasy or requires effort but which will help you push your boundaries in a healthy, constructive way. The goal is to turn these boundaries (e.g. fear, uncertainty, complacency or desire for comfort) into frontiers. You know your limits and therefore, are the best person to evaluate what this challenge should be. Read on for some further tips.
  • Note down your #HourofSisu challenge and get prepared to follow through. Remember, sometimes even just one action might begin a massive ripple effect, and as Wayne Gretzky has said: “You miss 100% of all the shots you don’t take.” BOOM!

Hour of Sisu could involve applying for a new job or a school, signing up for a marathon or some other event that will challenge you, going for your first run, swimming in ice water (just a thought), going out of your way to mentor someone, perhaps reconciling with someone, or taking the first step toward your dream (I quit my secure job two years ago to follow my calling – it was scary, but I have not regretted my decision). Doing whatever it is that you have been wanting to do but haven’t had the guts, chutzpahganbaru, sisu, rasmia, courage or the right momentum. Sisu Day is here to give you that nudge, support you and help you support yourself.

ProTip: Don’t quite know what your courageous action could be, or what moonshot to aim for during #HourofSisu?

Well, you want to naturally do something that is meaningful to you. Find something that brings energy to your system. I still remember the exact moment when I read the following lines in a blog post written by ultra runner Rich Roll:

What makes your heart beat hardest?”

Answer this question for yourself. Then move in that direction with every fiber of your being.

Giving this question some serious thought turned out to be a pivotal moment for me. Perhaps meditating on this question will help you find a direction. Take a moment and be honest with yourself.

Here is also a quote by Howard Thurman:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.

Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.


  • Tweet your Sisu Day feelings with #HourofSisu or #Sisu2016 to inspire the world and get support for your own journey. Challenge a friend if you want to be cheeky.
  • Share your stories, pictures and videos at Inspire Sisu (in English) or at Sisun juhlavuosi (in Finnish). We really look forward to hearing from you!

That’s all. No magic, woo-woo or circus tricks needed (unless you want). Just people coming together for good times. Now, let’s get started!


Main photo: Thank you to Sisu Team at Team Up Startup in Tampere!


Quotes to inspire your sisu day 
(thanks for the resources Jenny C. Brennan)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace – Amelia Earhart

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

“A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means.” Gloria Steinem

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Howard Zinn

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo Da Vinci

“Sisu denotes extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It relates to an action mindset that enables individuals to take action against very slim odds and reach beyond the observed limitations of their present moment. Sisu begins where grit and perseverance end. As a construct, it is an integral part of the Finnish culture but it is also a universal capacity of humans all across the word.”  -Emilia Lahti, 2013

TED talks for Feb 28th

Check the sisu playlist


Lahti, E. (2014). Sisu: Transforming Barriers into Frontiers. TEDxTurku (sisu in 18 minutes)

Chase, A. (2013) Finding Sisu. Rinning TImes

Lahti, E. (2014). Words Make Our Worlds: Introducing Sisu

Tepora, T. (2012). “Sisu”: The Finnish for “Stiff Upper Lip”?

Forbes (2014). The Sisu Social: Can Finns Teach The World To Hang Tough?

Suomeksi sisusta:

Helsingin Sanomat: Avustajan reppuselässä vuoren huipulle – Yli 25 luunmurtumaa ei ole Noora Västiselle syy jättää elämä elämättä

Minna Rinta-Tassi Mustikkaämpäriä ei jätetä tyhjäksi – Suomalainen sisu näkyy parhaiten arjessa




8 thoughts on “The Day of Sisu on February 28th!

  1. Hi Sisu, I think this is a brilliant idea. Here in South Africa, mental well being is severely challenging for the majority of our population. Only if you are wealthy or lucky will adequate mental health care be available. I want to know if I started a cafe here and called it Sisu, would that be contravening any copyright laws or offend anyone in Sisu in Finland? This would be a cafe for everyone but particularly for the mentally impoverished needing support as they do their daily lives. I look forward to hearing from you. Penny Wharton Cape Town South Africa


    1. Dearest Penny,

      Thank you for your kind note. I couldn’t imagine a more honorable use for the word ‘sisu’ than to open a space for the support of those who are underserved, impoverished and in need of care and community. In fact, if you choose to go ahead with this wonderful idea (and whether you end up calling your lovely cafe sisu or anything else), I would love to write a story about you and your mission for the sisu lab.

      So grateful for people like you. Please stay in touch.
      If there is anything I can do to help you, or if you wish to bounce off ideas (already got a few), don’t hesitate to contact me via the Sisu not Silence website at!sisunotsilence/p6l0b

      This totally made my day <3
      With sisu and joy, Emilia


  2. Emilia,

    Thanks for writing a reply. When my grandma passed away in 2001 she was really our family’s last connection with Finland- and our Only connection to Sisu. Her parents (Johanna Bohm & Johann Rosnell) came through Ellis Island around 1920 & raised 5 children in NY, but she was the youngest & the last to leave us. My mom (Gloria Clarke) & I are only children so we 3 gen’s were always very close. After my mom & I had been running our naturopathic health spa a few years (in SD, CA), we decided to name our growing natural skincare line in 2013. The word ‘Sisu’ came to us instantly as a connection to my grandmother & the Finn family, so we knew we wanted to use it. We came across a lot of businesses that had Sisu as their name, the closest to our health-idea was the Sisu vitamin company in Canada. So we just paired it with our industry & launched: SISUbeauty

    I may have written you most of this all before, but I just wanted you to know it was Magic when I stumbled on your website online in late 2014 as you were preparing for the first Day of Sisu in Feb 2015!

    Have you seen the movie The Secret by Rhonda Byrne? Or listened to Esther Hicks channeling ‘Abraham’ on the Law of Attraction? The SISU thing really unfolded that way in my life! After much hardship (surviving DV/RO- divorce after 15 yrs as military wife with 3 daughters), it was this little word I only heard a whisper of in my childhood that would help me learn how to live again.

    If you want to share any of this, you’re welcome to. If not, it can just be between us. I just wanted to take a few minutes out of my own hectic single-mom/overemployed/under-rested-fussyhood to Thank You personally for all you do for Sisu Awareness & using it for so much Good! I look forward to so much more…

    We are using it to give back to our community with-
    war vets assistance
    childrens programs
    domestic/sexual abuse survivors
    local arts
    healing thru hypnotherapy
    family wellness
    alternative health-care

    Love & Sisu to you,
    Tami Toland-Reeves


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