Meet sisu, the Scandinavian concept of perseverance the world really needs to embrace


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Photo: Getty Images/Brooke Schaal Photography

When it comes to self care, Scandinavian countries have earned the world’s implicit trust. The Danes are masters of the ultra-cuddly hygge and the Swedes juggle responsibilities to strike balance as lagom experts. But given this trash-fire planet on which we’re forced to subsist, what we might really need right now is sisu. The Finnish term describes a sense of courage that’s all about putting your big-girl pants on when the last thing you want to do is put on pants (a universal #mood if I ever knew one). Sisu is all about resilience and not giving up when you are one 4:45 p.m. meeting, idiotic tweet, or Kardashian scandal away from breaking.

The concept is at least a few hundred years old, but recent research, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing, is giving it new life. “Taking a close look at the concept reminds us that, as humans, not only are we all vulnerable in the face of adversity, but we share unexplored inner strength that can be accessed in adverse times,” Emilia Lahti, a doctoral student and study author say in a press release. Sounds like it might be time to give your life a healthy dose of sisu healing, huh?

Here are the key the elements that help explain what sisu really means so you can apply it to your life.

Extraordinary perseverance

You know how every once in a while, you have a long work lunch and only want to nap on the couch for a few thousand years afterward? Sisu means that when you return, you finish your workday like a champ, underneath the harsh fluorescent light. It’s about pushing yourself past the threshold of what you want to do because that’s simply what needs to be done.

An action mind-set

In life, it should never be enough to phone it in, no matter what you’re doing—completing a work task, cleaning your kitchen, or spending QT with your bestie. Sisu emboldens you to toughen up, believe in yourself, and finish what you start.

Some latent power

You already possess sisu—it’s not something you can, like, buy at the store. Believe in yourself to access the reserves of your persevering powers—even if doing so isn’t as instantly gratifying as other happiness-boosting Scandinavian concepts. And, to be clear, it’s not as cuddly as those other concepts, which is precisely why Lahti notes portion control is key for practicing sisu like a pro.”We need sisu, but we also need things like benevolence, compassion and honesty with ourselves,” she says. So, to take a note from lagom, #balance.

Still, I prefer to see sisu as a beacon of protective strength versus a one-way ticket to burnout. If you try to focus soley on the softer Scandanavian words, you’ll never finish that work day, that spin class, that last mocking line item on your to-do list. So channel you sisu and lean into it.

And then you can take your pants off.

Here’s how to curate a Scandanavian-style wellness vibe in your home when you’re done sisu-ing hard. And, um, this is how to actually pronounce hygge.

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