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What Is Sisu And Its Meaning in Personal Use? A Finn Explains

There is no direct translation that provides us with the meaning of sisu. Instead, it is a concept unique to Finland. Sisu encompasses the qualities of perseverance and determination, helping people overcome the adversities they face in life.

However, I really want to point out that you don’t need to be Finnish to use your sisu. Sisu lies within all of us. Having sisu allows you to keep going even when others would consider a task impossible or give up.

Let’s dive into the meaning of sisu together!

What is sisu?

Sisu is an integral part of the character of Finland.

It’s the backbone, drive, and courage that allows you to overcome adversity and see things through to the end. It’s not envisioning the end goal. It’s taking yourself to the goal step by step. 

Finnish sisu

Often, when we face challenges – be it a work presentation or breaking free from a long-term relationship – we have no idea how to get through them.

We panic and ruminate as the feeling of dread builds up that we don’t have the skills to overcome these challenges. But in the end, we make it happen. That undefinable strength and spirit is sisu.

Where did the meaning of sisu originate?

In Finnish, the word sisus literally means internal, which people can also translate as guts. In 1745, a Finnish bishop used the term ‘sisucunda’ to describe the region of the body where strong feelings originate.

After the winter war of 1939/40, the word sisu rose in popularity as the Finns used it to cement and display their tenacity and strength.

Over time, the word sisu came to represent a sense of drive and determination, the mantra that the things that we should do will be done. We may think of it as a strength or resilience that helps overcome any challenges.

Finnish windmill

Furthermore, sisu is linked to other qualities such as honor and integrity, making it more of a philosophy or way of life than a more simplistic concept such as perseverance.

Are you born with sisu, or can you develop it?

I think that Finns believe that people everywhere are all born with a certain amount of sisu. I believe that in Finland we are lucky that we have a powerful word to describe it.  

We all can choose whether or not we want to develop our sisu. Though this characteristic can lie dormant or become blocked by our own fears, it is still there in us.

The best way to develop your own sisu is to become aware of it and learn how to apply it to your life effectively. 

Sisu isn’t a tool you can just pick up to fight your fear every time you feel scared. Sisu needs to be carefully cultivated. Furthermore, you can use it for positive things too. 

the meaning of sisu

Understanding that sisu is a part of you that needs to be nurtured and developed like any other area helps to increase your strength.

It’s like this – if you don’t exercise your legs regularly, then you can’t expect them to run a marathon, but if you train regularly to develop those muscles, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

The same goes for sisu. If you remain unaware of its existence, it will be harder for you to use it when times get tough, but when you make sisu a part of everyday life – a part of your being, it becomes your best tool for facing adversity.

In my in-depth online course about Finnish culture and how to connect with it, I show you the key characteristics of Finnish culture and tools that boost your sisu. 

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How can I apply the concept of sisu to my own life?

Applying sisu to your own life means pushing yourself that little bit further every time you feel like giving up.

  • Make a decision and stick to it.
  • Get used to the feeling of pushing yourself that little bit further than you feel comfortable with.
  • Treat discomfort as an experience and a learning opportunity. Use discomfort as a tool for moving forwards rather than as an obstacle to push you back.
  • If you’re facing a challenging time, think about how your ancestors coped with their hardships.

How can I develop sisu in my life?

There are a number of daily habits that we can use to build the amount of sisu in our own lives.

Try engaging in a hobby that allows you to push yourself, such as learning a new language (how about learning Finnish) or long-distance running. This can help you remind yourself that you can always push yourself that little bit further.

Take time out to reflect on your elders and ancestors, who are examples of the strength of sisu. Use them as inspiration to show what you can achieve through this life philosophy along with the true potential of human life.

sisu in your life

Reflect on the times when you’ve experienced and implemented sisu in your own life. Use it as evidence of your own strength to overcome adversity.

Face every challenge in your life – big or little – with strength and courage. Question yourself and become aware of when you engage sisu or when you shy away from something to take an easier, less fulfilling road.

Common questions about sisu

Is there a symbol for sisu?

If you ask a Finn living in Finland this question, you’ll hear that there is no visual symbol for sisu. 

It’s important not to get confused with the symbol of Suomen Sisu ry. Suomen Sisu ry is a nationalistic party that uses a looped square as its symbol. 

sisu symbol

How do you say sisu?

You pronounce it see’-soo. 

How do you use sisu in a sentence?

You can say “Sisua or sisulla vaan” (meaning “Use your sisu.”) when you are supporting another person who is facing a challenge. 

You can also say that someone has sisu, for example:  “Annalla on sisua” or “Anna on sisukas.” translates as “Anna has sisu. ” or “Anna is filled with sisu.”

sisu originate

Sisu is like an extra battery

Sisu is not merely a skill for me. It’s like a place you visit to get energy than a regular mood you’re in. I couldn’t be in a sisu mood all the time. I use my sisu to get an extra push and I can use it as much as I want. 

What would you like to know about sisu? Are you connecting to your sisu? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for more information about Finnish culture and Finns people? Check out these interesting posts:

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About Varpu
I’m the founder of Her Finland. I love cultural tidbits, aha moments, Finnish folklore, and cinnamon buns. My newest interest is learning bird songs. Read more about me..

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Kim

Saturday 22nd of October 2022

Thank you for sharing this insight. The past ten or so years of my life have been incredibly challenging and tumultuous. About a year ago, I was visiting with a beloved family member I hadn’t spoken to or seen in several years and she asked me how I made it through everything. I told her that I just did what I had to do. It was then that she told me that my grandma, (her mother) who was of Finnish decent, had a word for that… sisu. It was the first time I’d ever heard the word. Once I looked up it’s meaning, I realized just how much sisu my incredible grandma embodied. I see the same strength in my dad and am so very proud of my Finnish heritage <3

Varpu

Tuesday 25th of October 2022

Hei Kim! Thank you so much for sharing this and leaving a comment. It means the world to me. Kiitos <3 I hope better times are coming, sending you lots of love and light. Sisu, you already got plenty <3

Jimmy

Friday 30th of September 2022

My wife is of German descent. She can't conceptualize the meaning of Sisu. She is stubborn but I am driven. She tends to avoid conflict. But I see events in life and projects as challenges and obstacles to be overcome in an insatiable fashion...Sisu. Here in America, there is always somebody trying to knock you down. But being Finnish and with a developed sense of Sisu, I've been able to preserver with my sanity.

I have never had to compromise my character, honesty, integrity or determination and I owe all to my Finnish pride and Sisu.

So I encourage all of you, Finns or non-Finns, to cultivate Sisu. You will be stronger for it.

And when you get old and crippled like me, you can look back and say "I did it my way" (from an old Frank Sinatra song).

Varpu

Friday 14th of October 2022

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jimmy! Sisu is a wonderful resource!

Remo Tomasi

Thursday 16th of June 2022

Hi Varpu, I'm facing a particular moment in my life and I think this post can inspire the changes I want to make to improve myself by choosing the best way for me, not the most comfortable but the more suitable even if difficult.

What do you think about walking in nature to regain wisdom?

Have a wonderful day!!

Varpu

Monday 20th of June 2022

Hei Remo, Thank you so much for your message. I think it's a great idea, nature helps us tap into our true selves. One of my favorite quotes in Finnish: "Satu on kuin metsä: kuka sinne menee ja sen poluilla vaeltaa, tulee itseään vastaan eikä palaa samana takaisin." It combines fairytales and forests describing how you meet yourself again when you are in nature (or read a fairytale).

Raonei

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Such a wonderful concept! I'd love to train to have more sisu in my life. Thanks for this wonderful tips on the Finnish way of life.

Varpu

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

Thank you so much, your comment means a lot! I'm so happy to hear that you liked this post!

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