Embodied fortitude: An introduction to the Finnish construct of sisu


  • Emilia E Lahti Aalto University School of Science and Technology, Helsinki, Finland




qualitative research, thematic analysis, sisu, grit, embodied intelligence=


In the Nordic country of Finland, a cultural construct known as sisu has been used for centuries to describe the enigmatic power that enables individuals to push through unbearable challenges. Sisu, however, lacks a direct translation and the construct has remained poorly defined and understudied. This article seeks to answer the question “What is sisu?” through the thematic analysis of two sets of qualitative data (n = 500 and n = 569) that were collected as part of a survey (N = 1,208) among a sample group of primarily Finnish respondents. The most prominent part of the conceptual core of sisu is the ability to surpass one’s preconceived limitations by accessing stored-up energy reserves. Sisu is invoked by adversity and is more about finding energy in the moment than about long-term endurance, goal-setting and achievement. Instead of being about conscious willing or mental fortitude, it implies a strength that is connected to the visceral and somatic dimension of human endurance. I propose that sisu points to a universal phenomenon of latent energy in the human system, lends it a name and contributes toward a more culturally rich conversation on the human experience of overcoming adversity across life challenges.


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Author Biography

Emilia E Lahti, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, Helsinki, Finland

Emilia Lahti gained a Master’s Degree in Social Psychology from the University of Tampere in Finland and a Master's degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied under Dr. Martin Seligman and wrote her thesis under Dr. Angela Duckworth. She's an alumni of Singularity University GSP at NASA Ames and is currently aPh.D.D student exploring the Finnish construct of ’sisu' that denotes courage and determination in the face of adversity. She is the founder of the Finnish Positive Psychology Association and an avid social activist, who is currently leading the global movement called 'Sisu not Silence' to challenge the pervasive culture of interpersonal violence.