Sisu – A Life Lesson from the Finns

Posted: May 9, 2018 in Family, Musings, Writing


We learnt about the Finnish concept of Sisu – a mental toughness that kicks in when all else is exhausted – on a walking tour of Helsinki, with icy winds and snow whipping around my hubby’s unprotected ears.

(He wasn’t listening when I told him to pack a beanie and gloves, so the blizzard on arrival was a shock to his system. He’d joked on the plane ride over that it would be a balmy 24 degrees. And it was – on the Fahrenheit scale.)

While I was doing a fair impression of the Michelin Man in puffer, gortex jacket and four layers of clothes, hardy locals were showing we Aussies just how soft we really are – by stripping down to their budgie smugglers for a quick dip in the ice-trapped local pool.  

Respect, my Finnish friends. Man, you are tough. But I guess that comes with the territory when you live in a country where the mercury rarely pushes above 15 degrees. Where only five million people became legendary throughout the world for standing alone in the Winter War against overwhelming Russian forces – and surviving. That’s sisu.


No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

Now that I’m home again, home again, jiggety jig, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned and experienced while away.


Time with loved ones is more precious when travelling, the juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar giving each day a special edge.

No wonder the Dalai Lama exhorts us to step away from the everyday: ‘Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.’

This year, it was Helsinki. Where I am glad to have discovered a new word to live by.

For when the going gets tough. Sisu.

  1. Great post, Chris! I learned about Sisu when I was in Helensinki last year (gorgeous place and people) and wished/hoped/wanted to export the concept here. It is marvellous. We were there in summer and it was still really cold – fresh and lovely though. No blizzard! LOL! Thanks for sharing this and your terrific pictures too. Recognise a few places 🙂 xxx

  2. chrisbongers says:

    Hi Karen, yes, the people were amazing, weren’t they? So welcoming, making the whole experience such a delight. Time to make sisu a thing over here! xx

  3. I’m spending 48hrs in Helsinki at the end of November this year. Looking forward to it but not sure how I’m going to cope with the 6hrs of daylight & 0 degrees. I am definitely lacking in sisu!

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