Nikolai & Hedvig Kunerus

Sisu: Regroup, Simplify & Deploy!

While the Finnish concept of Sisu may be hard to pin down, the patterns of how it is carried out can be seen throughout history. On a rather incredible amount of occasions, Finns have had to not only face great adversity, but in doing so, learn to make do with less. What about today?

While the Finnish concept of Sisu may be hard to pin down, the patterns of how it is carried out can be seen throughout history. On a rather incredible amount of occasions, Finns have had to not only face great adversity, but in doing so, learn to make do with less. What about today?

It was true in the 16th century, when Finns were caught in the middle of a great war. It was true when they migrated to the forests of Sweden, having to essentially start from scratch. It was true in the Finnish famine of 1866-68. It was true for the hundreds of thousands who came to the United States and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was true of the hundreds of thousands more Finns who suffered under Soviet rule.

And though by all appearances we are in an entirely different world – a world of plenty – appearances can be deceiving.

Let me talk about loss for a moment. Whenever we experience it, the first reaction is anxiety, depression, and the worry that life either cannot go on, or at least will never be the same. That is true whether it is loss of our human connections, or our material resources (eg. money). So how is it dealt with usually? Ideally, we would have a strong safety net of community, faith, and other such resources at our disposal. But often, we rely on other things. Substances. Vices. Things. Food. Whatever offers comfort and temporary relief.

In recent times, I have experienced great loss. The loss of a parent, the loss of a familiar environment, my health, financial security, and even my sense of identity has sometimes wavered as I am forced to adapt in a society of changing values. The world itself has begun to look alien. I have come to what felt like the breaking point, gained new white hairs in my beard, and wondered WHY???

Anxiety and confusion and pain and sadness can all become so great that one is immobilized. This is when we usually seek a way – any way – to isolate ourselves and hopefully, recover. But that doesn’t always happen. We can continue on in these cycles of escape for years, and never gain traction, even if we want to.

The reason is that even though escape is necessary, we also need to regain something during this process. That something is perspective – and then, a sustainable plan. It’s easy to scheme ways to get out of trouble but they’re usually impossibly ridiculous plans. Real solutions are much different. The Finns of old knew this.

Besides loss, which has been with us since time immemorial, today many of us also have to face that we may have fallen for the tricks that tell us we need big fancy houses and cars, all kinds of gadgets and fully stocked fridges to be happy and secure and well off in life. At the same time, we waste. Or, we may believe we need to do everything at once, and thus overwhelm ourselves to the point that we can do none of it at all. I can pinpoint most of my problems to fall into either of these two categories. I can identify that simple decisions in my day-to-day life play a bigger role than I would actually have liked to admit. And you know what? There’s no shame in admitting it. Especially when doing so will give me back some control.

Despite lessons from my Finnish elders early on in life, as an adult I didn’t always fully see the connection between my habits and struggling to stay on top of bills. It was easier to blame something else – Like “the man” keeping me down.  It’s all too common, really.


In the 20th century, spending on consumer durables rose significantly. Household debt rose as living standards rose, and consumers demanded an array of durable goods. These included major durables like high-end electronics, vehicles, and appliances, that were purchased with credit. Easy credit encouraged a shift from saving to spending.

Households in developed countries significantly increased their household debt relative to their disposable income and GDP from 1980 to 2007 — one of the many factors behind the U.S. and European crises of 2007–2012. Research indicates that U.S. household debt increased from 43% to 62% of GDP from 1982 to 2000.[5]

As you can see, it’s common because we’ve all been lulled into a sort of false sense of security and hope via consumerism. So we know that modern life isn’t a bed of roses for a lot of us, Finns included.  But let’s tie all this back into my Sisu approach. How do we deal with the effects of all these false strategies we’ve been taught? Well… by replacing bad “memes” with good ones. Here are three simple words I’ve recently begun to meditate on:


I call the process of getting away in order to regain perspective on my situation, regrouping. Talk to a friend, read a book, get out into nature! Whatever helps you find meaning again and examine the reasons your life was less than great before. It is entirely self-defeating to just go to the nearest easy escape that is offered and live our lives in that bubble. So I want to at least choose my escapes wisely, so that I can come out of it stronger. 


My process of regrouping has led me to the conclusion that to thrive, gain better health, and success in all my pursuits, I need to simplify, like the Finns of old. Like my parents and grandparents and their grandparents had to do. When their cows and horses were stolen from them by communist governments, they found ways to survive. They made simple soups, they ate more vegetable and plant life. They found new ways to spice up their diets. And guess what? It had an unintended consequence too. In many cases, they lived longer for their calorie reduction and the healing components of these plants.

As silly as it sounds, I always used to feel like I needed a frozen pizza in the freezer in order to feel like we were in a good situation. While my parents did teach good lessons I should have listened to more, they also instilled into me inadvertently that to eat well was an important value, as they had not had the opportunity in their tougher times of war. And because I bought those pizzas and other yummies without fail and they were always there, I tended to ignore the other healthy foods I bought with good intentions. As a result, tons of money got wasted because a lot of my purchases had to go in the trash; they spoiled. So my faulty ideas about what provided health, happiness and financial security, were actually sabotaging them, ironically.

Creatively speaking, I always used to try to do more and more, because it always felt like time was short. And maybe time is indeed short, but it’s even shorter once you’ve had to repeat your mistakes. If you can’t do it all, stop trying to. That doesn’t mean stop trying altogether, just realize your limitations and take small steps in what you want to do. Eventually it will get done. Maybe, like the tortoise, you’ll even beat all those hares going about things the tech way with all their smart gadgets.


Now that I realize my mistakes, I can deploy the stronger ideas which are more resistant to difficult times and circumstances. One at a time. Baby steps. If I survived before, sometimes just barely, then I can thrive now. And when I think about it, that must be just how Sisu helped our ancestors to do the same. Not just survive – but thrive.

Perhaps a willingness to simplify is actually one of the key secret ingredients of Sisu?

In any case, one thing is clear to me: Today more than ever, as more and more nonsense is being told to us about what we “need” to live, we must continue to go our own way.

ATTN! I’m looking for your personal stories of how Sisu or Finnishness has played a role in your life, to be published. E-mail or FB message only – henrik [at] ryosa [dot] com. It can be anything, simple or crazy, as long or short as you like. Include the name you would like to be credited with, and location if desired. Deadline Sept 30 2016.

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