Embodied fortitude: An introduction to the Finnish construct of sisu

Emilia E Lahti


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.


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

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v9i1.672


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