Searching for Sisu
At home in the top five of the World Happiness Index, Scandinavia has earned a reputation for holding the key to personal fulfillment. Lifestyle concepts like hygge, lagom and Friluftsliv continue to inspire those in search for a happier, cosier more balanced life. Strangely, Finland, the happiest nation in the world, has been less prominent when it comes to dispensing its wisdom. Still, Finns who prefer a less vocal appreciation of the good things in life have a few, unique philosophies up their sleeve. The most notable one being Sisu, the art of preserving or maintaining dignity in the face of adversity. The concept, though not specifically defined until the 20th Millennium, dates back centuries and it is safe to say that the notion of Sisu has shaped the Finnish sense of self.
‘You could say that sisu is energy, determination in the face of adversities that are more demanding than usual’ Emilia Lahti, Social Researcher
Sisu is referred to as Finland’s social glue-a shared pride in the nation’s inner strength. It means preserving in the search for a new lease on life. A triumphant recovery in a hockey game, Finland’s preservance during the Russian invasion, or overcoming a toxic relationship all count as Sisu. The versatile use of the word highlights that Sisu is merely a response to a physical, psychological or social challenge. It is the belief that we can choose how to react and thus shape the outcome. Sisu does not prescribe a certain type of reaction. Instead, it is a shared belief in there being a way forward.
While proactively searching sisu type challenges on personal travels appeals to few, taking inspiration from Sisu through stories and gentle nudges outside our comfort zone can deepen our understanding of the unique concept. Who knows you may draw inspiration and strength from your learnings?
Here are a few of the experiences we recommend:
Challenges often expose us to the unknown demanding a quick adjustment to a situation that may be difficult to assess. Finland’s frozen wilds paired with a pack of huskies including an overnight wilderness stay definitely tick these boxes. Not to worry, you’ll be joined by a guide with enough sisu to guide and mentor you. This is a learning journey and decisions will be made bearing the safety of all participants in mind. Still, the self-sufficiency and the canine-propelled sense of travel will confront you with a new situation and a learning curve. Perhaps, it may encourage you to embrace other challenges in a refreshing way?
The tradition of dipping into a lake post sauna is a sacred ritual in Finnish sauna culture. An elbow thick layer of ice is only a negligible obstacle in this Sisu-building outdoor exercise. The surprisingly life-affirming dip in the lake can be joined at many of our wilderness retreats. When it comes to ice swimming, it is worth knowing your limits, and only then break them. We recommend treating the sauna dip as an exploratory experience you could build upon. Our personal sauna swim favourites are Kopikartano near Lake Inari or Kakslauttanen, at the Kakslauttanen River.
Hiking and snowshoeing
Finland’s trails are open to everyone who leaves nothing but footprints. Access to nature including the right to harvest bits from its treasure chest such as mushrooms and berries are part of the Finnish desire to explore.
In the eve of the 20th century, when Finland explored its identity under Russian occupation, the Finnish ability to enjoy the outdoors regardless of the temperatures emerged as a common theme. Certainly, there is some sisu involved, as rain and heavy snowfall tends to discourage those unfamiliar with Finland’s moody, yet strikingly soothing landscapes. Slow travel like hiking, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing have emerged as popular Finnish pastimes. Quite literally step into these traditions and discover enjoyment in almost every weather. Whether or not you can find some of Finland’s iconic fortitude in the age-old saying of there being no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing is up to you to decide.
Koli national park, the birthplace of Finland’s artistic self-expression, is a great place to explore both on snow-and hiking shoes. Get in touch for a tailored adventure.
Like any self-propelled journey, cycling allows travelers to engage more deeply with their surroundings. The history, nature, the stories become more accessible and you may quite literally stumble upon examples of Sisu as you engage with the locals on a multi-day cycling tour. Again, the focus lies on finding inspiration over physical exertion.
To those looking to embrace sisu on two wheels, we recommend exploring the Archipelago Trail snaking through Turku’s island-peppered backyard. Travel to remote islands and learn more about the slow way of life out on the Baltic Sea. Solution-based thinking will be second nature to the islanders who during winter will have little contact with the outside world.
If Sisu is not quite your cup of tea perhaps hygge is? Check our favourite hygge stays in the Magnetic North.