Tag Archives: sisu

Sisu: Is this the word I’ve been looking for?

I was recently made aware of a most remarkable word. In my quest to understand the different ways in which learners cope with adversity and setback, I have used many words – some of them interchangeably. When I first began my PhD there was a tendency for me to use the word ‘resilience’, but that word didn’t really serve my purpose because it refers primarily to the way people cope with severe adversity – I am interested in the slightly more mundane variety (the everyday stuff that our pupils have to deal with). I dallied with ‘grit’ but, again, it never really hit the mark – it was a bit like resilience but significantly different in many ways (see my previous post). I finally adopted the term ‘academic buoyancy’ from Australian educational psychologist Andrew Martin and this is essentially what I’m sticking with. However….

Jon Sutton (editor of The Psychologist) drew my attention to a new word, one that he pointed out overlapped with a an article I wrote (to appear in The Psychologist in September)…


Sisu is a Finnish word that doesn’t really translate into English. Roughly speaking it means stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilience, perseverance and hardiness… It’s a tough word for a tough people and has been at the heart of Finish culture for hundreds of years.

It also fits well into the positive psychology paradigm and this is where research has focussed. Emilia Lahti (who seems to be the main ‘go to’ person on this), has described sisu as the “enigmatic power that enables individuals to push though unbearable challenges” and as “a reserve of power, which enables extraordinary action to overcome mentally or physically challenging situations (rather than being the ability to pursue long-term goals and be persistent)” and views it as life philosophy.

I’ll let Emilia explain…

Certainly sisu goes beyond resilience and far beyond what I am looking into. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a fascinating area for personal development and personal growth.