Healthy Beginnings

How the Finnish word ‘sisu’ will help you overcome obstacles

If you’re struggling to commit to exercising with that afternoon fall hike, consider “sisu.” Photo: Annora McGarry

The Scandinavian culture seems to have this winter thing figured out. Words like “hygge,” a Danish word that roughly translates to “self-care,” and “logom,” a Swedish word that refers to creating balance in one’s life, have entered the American lexicon in the past few years.

These words are more than just expressions — they refer to a practice of holistic well-being that has been gaining attention in scientific, psychological, and other wellness-related fields in recent decades.

Here’s one word you may not have heard yet: “sisu.” Sisu is a Finnish word, and roughly refers to perseverance and grit. It is more than a word — it is a concept that encourages us to look inward to reframe our approach to adversity.

Internalizing this concept allows us to live freely — there are always going to be obstacles, but we have the resources, the grit, and the mental determination to overcome anything in our way.

Sisu is slightly different than perseverance — it relates specifically to short-term tasks and goals. Think about shoveling snow this winter. Sisu approaches obstacles through a timeline of short moments — you have the grit to get up when your alarm rings at 6 a.m.

You have the determination to make sure that your driveway is cleared, one shovelful at a time, so that you can get to work on time. And after that? Maybe you have a moment to reward yourself with some hygge — take a few minutes to enjoy that hot cup of coffee, and mentally prepare for the day.

Living in Northern California and Nevada, we know the struggles of winter. Huge snowstorms in Tahoe, short and blustery days in Reno and colder temps all around — these factors can contribute to a feeling of frustration, depression and apathy as the seasons change.

The next time that you are shoveling snow at 6 a.m. to get to work, or struggling to wake up early to go to the gym, consider sisu. You, as a human being, contain the resources to overcome these obstacles and turn them into opportunities.

There are external resources to help you too — you cannot create your own sisu without a support network. Sisu is only effective as a practice when it is combined with other means of maintaining mental and physical wellbeing.

Rather than ignoring or trying to suppress issues, it allows us to embrace those issues. Are you feeling the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The concept of sisu doesn’t require that you put your head down and persevere through it — it empowers you to find the tools to alleviate it. Purchase a sun lamp. Speak to a therapist. Just do what needs to be done to attain a more harmonious inner and outer balance — sometimes seeking help takes as much grit as working through something on your own.

This winter, think of sisu as it relates to your life. Find the resilience and hardiness to make this winter the best one yet — one step at a time.

Annora McGarry is a lover of all things outdoors who has made her home in Tahoe City. She works for Granlibakken Tahoe, a resort, retreat center and lodge located in Tahoe City. Granlibakken Tahoe hosts twice yearly wellness retreats, under their Sierra Soul brand.