How to cultivate and find your Sisu

How to cultivate and find your Sisu

By Steve Davey

How to cultivate and find your Sisu

How to cultivate and find your Sisu.

Pronounced ‘see-su’.

Have you heard of sisu, do you know what it is? Sisu is the Finnish concept of resilience, grit and determination,. Finding Sisu is a book,  part memoir and part guide to sisu and how we can all cultivate and nurture our own sisu for a healthier and happier life. It is part of a Finns national character and is nurtured in everyday life even as a child. We all know the Nordic countries are always in the top 5 of happiest places to live and Finland is up there as number one, as the happiest place, so they must be on to something.

In this day and age, where we are all bombarded by social media, work and the pressures of modern life, we can all benefit from learning and nurturing practices in our daily routines that allow us to be physically and mentally stronger to deal with todays fast pace of life and the ups and downs that life can throw at us.


The author, Katja, was born in Finland and raised in Canada. Several years ago she moved back to Finland for work and ended up staying. Katja has suffered from depression throughout her life and was on medication for many years, but, she found with her gradual introduction back into nordic life, slowly, everyday, her life began to take transformation in small positive ways. This was to do with the way Finns live their daily lives and with the concept of sisu. It began to show in every part of daily life, peoples behaviour, thoughts and actions. Her story is one we can all relate to and all learn from, so we to can begin to cultivate our own sisu, not just to get us through those tough times in life but as part of our daily lives, helping us to live happier and healthier, we all have the potential within us.


This is not some new fad, but a deep seated part of Finnish culture and rooted in their history and what they overcame so many years ago. This book, talks of it’s roots and follows Katja’s journey as she explores the concept of sisu, both personally and professionally and as a writer and journalist she has a keen interest in what makes people tick and a curiosity about how they take care of their health and wellbeing.

Finding sisu author Katja Pantzar

Katja Pantzar

Why do some people seem to thrive no matter what life throws at them, while others seem to be hard done by? As Katja has struggled with  depression and anxiety, she emmerce’s herself in the unique culture of resilience Finns seem to have, which helped her transition from a weaker more passive person, scared of trying new things into someone who seems to feel better and stronger both physically and mentally. There are many positive elements of the Nordic lifestyle that she discovered provide an excellent primer for an easier, healthier, more sustainable and balanced life that is in touch with the natural world. This includes ice or winter swimming!!!


Oh, yes, as wild and crazy as it sounds, she would not have thought the cold , yet wonderful experience of winter swimming, in icy cold waters, would completely change her life! This one regular custom, a natural remedy, with other simple elements of nordic living, have helped her find her sisu, enabling Katja to rid herself of the bone crushing depression she has suffered for years!

Now, a dip in the icy Baltic sea is not for all of us, and may not be your way of cultivating your sisu, but as crazy as this sounds, for many people this is a great way to strengthen their immune system and keep them healthy and strong and there is much evidence to show this is extremely good for you! There are  many groups here in the UK that are great examples of this outdoor winter and all year long pursuit, if you feel like giving it a go, and there is much evidence which is also covered in the book on the full benefits both physically and mentally that these burst of icy swimming or dipping have on our mind, body and spirit.


winter swimming ice swimming nordic

Winter swimming


Sauna’s are also excellent for the mind and body, and a big part of Finnish life. Now, we do not have them dotted around the city or country as they do, but we can find them in many gyms and these can be most helpful for many conditions, so worth having a go if you can access one. It is very big in the Nordic countries and their culture, you could be sitting next to anyone in the sauna, it is a great leveller.  Maybe trying this little addition to your routine could help you, sweat your way to a better health.

saunas Finnish saunas nordic living

Sauna in Finland

Health benefits are, soothing and relaxing tired muscles, relieving tension and mental and physical fatigue, improves circulation and good for lowering blood pressure, aids in better sleep, increases resistance to illness and maintains a clear and healthy skin, improving removing toxins and impurities… not bad for a few minutes sitting inside a steamy room!


Natures collection icelandic sheepskin rugs, new zealand sheepskin rugs rare breed rugs


Getting out into nature for any length of time, is also very important. You can do this in small ways, and try to go for a walk somewhere with some greenery, your local park or near water as well as make an effort on the weekend to actually go right into nature.  Find some outdoor activity that you can enjoy and get some added exercise and nature at the same time. Forest walking has also been proven to really aid in depression and to uplift our mind and body, it allows us to ground more easily and is a much needed antidote to modern stresses as well as a digital detox. Again there is much evidence that shows getting out into nature has great health benefits, and you can add this to your daily life or weekends to boost your sisu quite easily.

Forest walking forest therapy Nature

Forest walking


Keeping it simple and as natural as possible, lots of fruits and berries and foraging is easy in Finland. Maybe growing your own and trying to eat in season is the way to go and shop at the farmers markets. The book,  is more in depth, but the main idea is keep it simple and natural as possible.

Cultivate sisu from an early age….

Sisu is nurtured in children as part of their lives, such as cultivating a supportive environment for not giving up if something doesn’t work out immediately.   Some of life’s greatest joys come from overcoming challenges, not from taking the easy way out. ” They understand that sisu doesn’t come from holding on harder, sisu comes from allowing people to figure out what they’re going to do next.”

Play outdoors and in nature, it sounds simple but todays children do not seem to spend enough time outside, whatever the weather, just playing and being in touch with nature, it is simple and pure and is so good for the soul, we really need to nurture this simple pleasure much more in our young again.

Be creative and make things, there are so many small ways we can introduce and cultivate sisu in the young, to help them build this positive attitude into their daily lives, Katja covers this much more with parenting and culture in the book.


sisu and exercise

Make little changes with incidental exercise

Try to add some extra incidental exercise into your routine, if you cannot cycle or walk as part of your journey, take the stairs, do the house work, little things like this to keep moving, they are all positive extras that help on many levels. There is a great informative section on moving as medicine, for all of us, whatever your age. Moving as medicine. ( Liike on lääke in Finnish). “Use any opportunity, even if it’s for a short time and features light movement. Don’t try to come up with ways to avoid daily movement and activity at home, work, commuting to work, or in free time, says  Professor Emeritus and movement as medicine expert Ikka Vuori.

Sisu can be used in everyday life even in the office, for example speaking your mind, with respect to others, having the courage to speak out and explain in situations is a challenge some times and also part of sisu. There are so many parts of life that it comes into play and the book highlights these in more depth, it is also a great insight into the way Finns live their lives. ” Regardless of where we live and what we do, we all struggle with so many of the same issues in our daily lives. And finding a sense of our sisu by taking care of our wellbeing, we become stronger, more balanced, and better able to address universal health concerns and stresses.”


Design and a simpler lifestyle is also touched in the book, as we know, design is very important to Finns and as well as one of our loves, design, it’s function and simplicity as well as sustainability, is at the heart of Finnish design. Buy something really good, that will last, it may cost a little more at first, but it’s good for your pocket long term and also good for the environment. ” Whereas ‘design’ and ‘designer’ can equal exclusivity in some parts of the world, Finnish design embodies the ideas of equality and access for everyone that are so prominent in many ways of life in Finland from education to exercise.”

Finding Sisu is a fascinating and informative read and has simple suggestions and ideas that you can add to your life to help cultivate your own sisu. With so much emphasis on mental health today, we can all do a little more to nurture ourselves to live a more balanced, healthy and happy life, and that’s got to be good for everyone!

“Though the roots of sisu lie in a type of icy Nordic practicality and determination, anyone, anywhere, can tap into their own form of it.” It’s really about moving outside of your comfort zone in a positive way. Challenge yourself to take healthy options, try new things and consider going beyond your limits, whether mental, physical or emotional. The most important aspect and key is what works for you to find and cultivate your sisu?

If you want to learn more about sisu this ancient Finnish concept that dates back to the 1500s then do read this fascinating book.

Buy it here:

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To find out more about the author and her other work see here:

Some extracts from Finding Sisu are quoted above.

Sisu images are from extracts of the book. Nature images are sourced from free sources.