The Finnish Way

The Finnish Way

Katja Pantzar’s book The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu: Every individual has their own method of achieving happiness, and each culture takes a unique approach towards well-being; Katja Pantzar, a Canadian-born journalist, reveals the sisu method by which Finland, the homeland of her parents, and its inhabitants go about happiness and well-being on a daily basis.

By Katja Pantzar, 2019, 256 pages

Note: This is a guest post written by Genka Shapkarova of the Happiness blog

Review and Summary of The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu:

Introduction to The Finnish Way

In the introduction to her book “The Finnish Way”, author Katja Pantzar takes us back to the time when she first encountered one of the elements of the Nordic way of life that defines the concept of sisu, winter swimming. This type of swimming has health benefits: from immune stimulation to reducing fatigue and stress.

When she dared to try the practice, it completely changed her life and gradually became a natural remedy for her bouts of severe depression from which she suffers.

The reasons why she started to study sisu

  • On a professional level: as a journalist and author, she has an interest in how her peers take care of their health and well-being.
  • On a personal level: with regard to her struggle against depression, this unique cultural practice has transformed her from a weak, passive, and fearful individual to one that is stronger – both physically and mentally.

Beginning the practice

By the year 2017, the author had already begun doing regular ice water plunges.

[My ice water therapy also stimulates the hormones associated with feeling good: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. The practice is also known to improve immune system resistance and blood circulation, to burn calories, and to reduce stress.] It makes her feel near invincible.

[Where weakness once reigned, I discovered in myself a sense of sisu – the psychological power that allows me to pull myself together even when I feel mentally and physically exhausted.]

An analogy with life in Toronto

She spent her free time in Toronto away from nature, associated with going to bars and clubs with friends and following around celebrities.

At the time, she shared the collective angst of her North American friends that she was never thin enough, beautiful enough, or rich enough. It seemed to her that if those three things were fulfilled, her problems would disappear.

Another of her worries at the time was her depression. She saw it as a weakness of character (which is wrong thinking) and made her feel ashamed.

She has since realized that depression is triggered when several stressful situations occur at the same time, as probably happened to her.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three hundred million people suffer from depression, so her shame was unfounded.

She had everything at the time, but she still felt empty. Having grown up in comfort and within a consumer culture, she sought satisfaction in the wrong places and identified happiness with external factors such as good looks and material gain.

An irregular and unbalanced diet, a lack of physical activity, and insufficient sleep also fueled her inner anxiety.

Katja thanks the doctors who helped her. However, none of them ever asked her what she was eating or whether she was getting enough exercise. No one made the connection between her poor daily choices and her worsening depression.

Her concerns in Canada

Her career opportunities in Canada were numerous. As an editor in Toronto, Pantzar led a stable life but still took medication when she had bouts of anxiety. She seemed to be feeling fine, but she wasn’t. She was worried about her personal relationships, her financial situation, and the meaning of her life. Furthermore, she was disappointed by gender discrimination in the publishing and media environment. 

The land of her parents

As a Finnish child, the journalist never broke ties with Finland. She was even drawn to the Scandinavian ideal of gender equality. She also planned to work there, staying a year or two to improve her language skills and learn more about her roots. In fact, she never thought she would fall in love there and stay forever. She had no idea about sisu either.

In the following chapters, the author shares with us how she found her sisu, encouraging us to seek practical and useful tips for finding our own. In addition, this concept has helped her to significantly improve her physical and mental well-being.

Chapter 1 – Becoming Nordic

In the first chapter of her book, the author tells us about her first steps toward change. She gradually began to form a new lifestyle:

  • Working 9-to-5. She would have a mandatory lunch break with a healthy lunch in an institutional chair.
  • Riding her bike to work. Her first bike would embody Finnish minimalism – single-speed and sturdy – the adventure of biking to work while enjoying nature. This improved her sleep and reduced her anxiety, as well as the stress accumulated during the day at work. 
  • Exercising during breaks at work just like her colleagues (swimming in the pool or aquajogging). This increased her energy and concentration levels.

1.1 Hello sisu

Pantzar realizes that at the heart of every element of sisu is the unique iron will of the Finns – the determination not to give up or take the easy way out.

Her colleagues chose to ride their bikes instead of the free cabs the company offered its employees to commute to work. She later realized that this choice had to do with that well-known Nordic pragmatism coupled with a healthy dose of grit.

One of the first times she noticed the term sisu was during her second winter there, when she decided to ride her bike in sub-zero winter temperatures. Her neighbor, when he saw her, said “Olet sisukas!”

‘Time’ magazine gave the following definition of sisu in 1940: “The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate sisu as ‘the Finnish spirit,’ but it is a much more gutful word than that.”

1.2. Nordic simplicity

During the author’s travels in North America, when she was already familiar with sisu, there were many things that left a bad impression on her.

For example, one mother did not want to let her child out because he would get wet, and even wanted to give him a sedative. From the sisu point of view, it is normal that a child has a lot of energy and wants to spend it, go out, play, etc.

Unlike their North American counterparts, the Scandinavians have a simple and hassle-free approach to health and wellness. In addition, Finns seem to be much less inclined to complicate their lives with their bodies. Perhaps the Finns feel more comfortable with their body image because they have been immersed in the sauna culture since childhood.

1.3. Scandinavian well-being

Finland is among the five happiest countries in 2017, according to the UN’s annual World Happiness Report. The social progress index does not include gross domestic product (GDP), but social and environmental indicators based on [basic human needs, well-being, and development opportunities.]

[Many of the positives I found in the Scandinavian lifestyle are an excellent basis for an easier, healthier, more sustainable, and more balanced life that is in touch with nature.]

Finland is also at the top of other international rankings:

  • It was declared the most stable country in the world in 2017 according to the Peace Fund Index.
  • The freest country in the world, along with Sweden and Norway.
  • The world’s safest country according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness 2017 Report at the World Economic Forum.

Finland is a leader in high technology and offers many digital solutions to improve health. However, according to Pantzar, the greatest benefits to the body’s well-being come from the natural, non-digital lifestyle.

1.4. In the land of the midnight sun

During the summer months in Finland, daylight almost lasts all night. Therefore, it is not always so cold, and there can even be quite warm days at this time of the year when the sun shines all day long.

1.5. The connection with nature

Katja Pantzar book The Finnish Way

The strong connection between the Finns and nature is important for their mental and physical fitness.

Physical activity is also very important. All Finns have free access to green spaces. They take nature for granted because it is integrated into public infrastructure.

Helsinki also has a long coastline and many islands along the coast but is not as polluted as other European cities. This is due to the city’s infrastructure, which is suitable for pedestrians and cyclists and therefore people tend to move about without their cars.

There are public parks and forests all over the country. Anyone can take a dip in the indoor swimming pools, as well as in the sea, and mushroom and fruit picking is also allowed.

A number of findings from academic institutions around the world show that people living in large cities where they do not have much access to nature are more likely to suffer from mental illness.

Sisu daily self-training

  • Walk or bike to work or school.
  • Try to repair broken items instead of getting rid of them or replacing them with new ones.
  • Create simple habits like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Don’t be afraid of winter and bad weather – dress warmly and embrace the natural elements.
  • If you usually hire a housekeeper, try doing it yourself for a week.
  • Spend at least part of the weekend near nature.

Chapter 2: In Search of Sisu

In an article entitled “Dictionary of Happiness,” author Emily Antes defines this concept as a quality similar, but not identical, to resilience and strength of character.

According to Emily Lahti, one of the world’s leading sisu researchers, sisu is the mental fortitude and the ability to endure significant stress in the struggle to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

[The power of the mind is also reflected in our physical essence, that is, in our bodies.]

When people are asked what sisu is to them, they point to their belly, never to their head or heart. A study shows that 80% of the serotonin in our body is synthesized in the gastrointestinal tract. Some say as much as 90 to 95 percent.

[Serotonin plays an important role in the regulation of brain function, mood, and mental state. Sisu is therefore a combination of mind and body.]

2.1. Can we develop our sisu?

It is important to foster the mindset that your abilities are not a fixed value and can be developed. Your beliefs and convictions dictate your future actions.

[Sisu gives birth to what I call the ‘action mentality’ – a lively and bold approach to challenges. Sisu is a way of life that actively turns our difficulties into opportunities.]

The cultural environment also has a strong influence on establishing a mind-body connection within the framework of sisu.

[Immersing myself in a culture of hardiness and resilience helped me to change. From a passive and cautious person who was afraid of new experiences, I became a courageous person who was not afraid to step out of my comfort zone and take risks.]

2.2. The roots of sisu

According to linguist Maria Lansimaki, sisu appears in writing in 16th-century texts both as a character trait or aspect of personality and as an internal meaning of something.

[In the past, there was an idea of bad sisu, expressed in negative traits such as stubbornness, meanness, etc.]

Nowadays, ‘having too much sisu’ means getting tired, which leads to burnout, as well as health problems. It is very important to use it constructively.

To think that asking for help is a weakness is also wrong. It should be perceived as an individual and collective concept.

2.3. Research in the field of sisu

Dr. Barbara Schneider of the University of Helsinki, in her research1 on the role of sisu in Finnish and American high school students, found that Finnish children are more persistent and do not give up when faced with a daunting challenge.

Given the situation of climate change and global warming, we need to learn how to educate young people to experiment and make a difference. They must be able to adapt to future changes. [We want to develop a stronger entrepreneurial spirit, we want to steer them toward science, and modeling, and give them the skills they will need to keep our Earth healthy and sustainable.]

[Qualities such as grit, perseverance, and persistence can be developed through training and coaching.]

The sisu mentality

  • Sisu is an ancient Finnish construct associated with strength of mind, tenacity, and steadfastness.
  • Sisu is the ability to withstand high levels of stress and take action in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Instead of “I can’t” and “I won’t,” ask yourself, “ How can I do it?”
  • Good physical health and overall body wellness help build sisu.

Chapter 3 – Cold Water Cure

Cold Water Cure Katja Pantzar book The Finnish Way

People with cardiovascular disease, asthma, high blood pressure, fever, the flu, or those who have been drinking alcohol should not enter the water.

3.1. The art of ice immersion

Katja joined a cold-water swim club, but it took her a whole season to learn how to immerse her whole body, and by the third season she was not only able to do so but also swim for 30 seconds.

She would relax with a drink after a long, stressful, and tiring day, which in turn had unpleasant consequences like bad sleep and headaches the next day. Now, with this icy form of shock therapy, almost all the pain in her soul and body is relieved.

[The less alcohol I drink, the better and happier I feel. It took me almost a lifetime to figure that out.]

3.2. A remedy for a number of ailments

[Winter swimming is a natural remedy for a number of other ailments – from fatigue and stress to neck and muscle stiffness.] This practice is like a pharmacy for all her ailments.

The author’s new activity also has a meditative effect – she is entirely focused on the present moment with all her senses: touch, sound, sight, and even taste.

She always finds relief from her depression when in the ice water. Her idleness and lethargy are replaced with a burst of energy.

There are swimmers of all ages. Women in their 70s and 80s report that swimming helps with their muscle soreness, and their sleep improves as well. Waking up in the morning without dipping into ice water is unimaginable for some, especially on those dark winter days.

Some are there for their mood, which subsequently becomes joyous and optimistic. Menopausal women use it to cope with hot flashes.

For others, it reduces stress and better equips them for life’s challenges. It also has a beneficial effect on the skin.

3.3. Historical roots

[The use of cold water for health reasons has a long history in all parts of the world.]

In Finland, written records of winter bathing date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The book Hyinen Hurmio by Taina Kinnunen, Passy Heikura and Pirkko Hittunen is one of the few that traces the history and describes and examines the effect of winter swimming.

3.4. The power of the cold

Professor Hannu Rintamaki2, one of the foremost experts on the effects of cold, talks about the release of happy hormones, which include endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Blood circulation improves, calories are burned, and the immune system is strengthened. The pulse rate accelerates and after a rush of endorphins, a feeling of calmness occurs. And this is true after only one minute of being submerged in icy water.

In his research3, Professor Nikolai Shevchuk writes that a cold shower has an antidepressant effect.

The author, for her part, used cold showers when she did not have access to swimming pools.

3.5. Winter swimming as a treatment for other medical conditions

Pavi Palvimaki, a winter swimming coach, underwent two surgeries on damaged intervertebral discs, and the icy water restored her quality of life, relieving the pain and saving her from the despair she had fallen into.

Benefits of winter swimming

  • Relieves stress
  • Increases cold tolerance
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Acts as an analgesic
  • Acts as a natural stimulant in case of fatigue

Ice bath at home

  • A cold shower has a similar invigorating effect of ice water immersion.
  • Start with a few seconds in the cold shower and increase the time daily.
  • Even 30 to 60 seconds in a cold shower will boost your energy.
  • Be moderate. If you start with five minutes, you’ll probably stop trying.
  • Finish with a warm shower.

Chapter 4 – Soul of Sauna

The author became accustomed to nudity after moving to Finland. [The sauna is an essential part of life and social communication in this country, so refusing to go is like refusing to sit at the same table with other people when they invite you to dinner.]

4.1. An ancient tradition

According to the Finnish Sauna Society, the tradition dates back 2,000 years.  In the past, they were such an important part of the house that they were often built before the house itself.

The sauna is above all a place of purification of the mind and body. According to Pavi Palvimaki, [the Finnish sauna is essentially a sanctuary. The practice is part of our tradition. It connects me to previous generations when women gave birth in the sauna and the dead were prepared for burial there.]

4.2. Health benefits

[Especially in winter, the sauna is like the sun: it brightens your inner light and warms you up during the cold dark winter days… The sauna relaxes the muscles and the mind. It reduces stress levels and lowers blood pressure…]

According to the Finnish Sauna Society, the sauna has a positive effect on health, such as:

  • Relaxing tired muscles
  • Relieving tension and fatigue (both mental and physical)
  • Improving blood flow
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Optimizing sleep
  • Enhancing immunity
  • Cleansing skin

A 2017 study4 found that moderate to frequent sauna use reduced the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The spirit of the sauna

  • Equalizes social differences. People from all walks of life sit side by side on wooden benches and talk to each other.
  • The sauna offers a natural space for digital detox.
  • From an early age, children get used to nudity and all kinds of morphologies. For them, stylized and photoshopped images of models and stars in magazines and social networks are not the norm.
  • Helsinki holds a special celebration in honor of the Finnish sauna.
  • Sompasauna (free self-service sauna in Helsinki), according to the author, is a perfect example of the collectivist spirit of the North and the idea of “Do it yourself.”
  • The sauna is a psychological relief used to “let off steam.” All kinds of topics are discussed and therefore it serves to release built-up negative feelings.

Tips for using the sauna

  • Take a shower before and after entering the sauna.
  • There are no rules about how long you can stay inside – the decision is up to you.
  • Even a few seconds of hot steam does wonders.
  • The main goal is to relax the body and mind.
  • Remember to drink enough water to avoid dehydration.
  • Before drawing water with a ladle and pouring water on the hot stones of the stove (a ritual called lӧyly), etiquette requires you to ask permission from others in the sauna.
  • There are two theories about combining a hot sauna with ice immersion in the sea/lake. One recommends warming up in the sauna first, while the other, on the contrary, argues that it is better to enter the water first. It is assumed that after the warm comfort of the sauna, it will be much more difficult to immerse yourself in the icy water. You choose the sequence.
  • If you don’t have access to a sauna, try a steam bath. The steam bath offers some of the same benefits, although the humidity is higher than the dry heat of the sauna.
  • If you are uncomfortable entering the sauna naked, wrap yourself in a towel, or demonstrate sisu; accept the challenge, and use it to overcome the discomfort of your nakedness and accept your own body.

Chapter 5 – Nature Therapy

The author shares here her first experience in Finnish Lapland, where the wildlife is at its best and the air is considered one of the purest on the planet. It was a business trip with her colleagues to the famous winter resort of Ruka in November in the middle of the first decade of the new century.

She was deeply impressed by the nature, which she had never seen anywhere else in the world prior, and even saw the Northern Lights. After such a surreal experience during that business trip, she developed an entirely new attitude toward nature.

The World Health Organization ranks Finland third in the world for air quality.

5.1. Sisu in nature

Pantzar recounts another of her business trips to the Fell Centre Kiilopää where she was attending a summer camp. She was again impressed by the natural features there. She admired them and found peace there.

According to Sana Yakola, their guide, children should have such contact with nature because that is when they learn the most. They take in not only knowledge of the natural world but also practical skills for survival and safety.

The forest also teaches social skills. [When you move a branch to make a path, you learn to hold it so that your friend can follow you and the branch doesn’t hit him.]

5.2. Forest therapy

Forest therapy includes practices that use nature and its power to act as an antidote to the stresses of modern life, to improve the general well-being of the body, and to provide much-needed digital detoxification.

According to the Natural Resources Institute Finland, also known as LUKE, 96 percent of Finns participate in outdoor activities an average of two to three times a week.

Professor Lisa Turvainen, a researcher at the Institute, explains the scientifically proven positive effects of forest therapy. Nature helps to prevent certain conditions such as burnout and to treat mild forms of depression and chronic fatigue.

[One of the key points in urban planning is the provision of large green spaces for passage through urban centers. One of the biggest challenges is to maintain the Scandinavian way of life, which requires large green spaces, easily accessible to city dwellers.]

Forest therapy

  • Nature can reinvigorate us in many ways – for example, by reducing stress and anxiety and helping to combat milder forms of depression.
  • A 15-minute walk in a quiet park or forest does wonders for the body and mind.
  • Use nature for digital detox by turning off the sound on your mobile devices.
  • Focus on your surroundings, observe the colors of the forest, the leaves on the trees, the flowers, etc. This is a useful technique to temporarily detach yourself from the thoughts that are bothering you.
  • If there is no forest nearby, a walk in the city park or along the coast is also very effective.
  • Contact with nature strengthens your sisu, diverting attention from everyday problems and giving you the opportunity to recuperate and recharge.

Chapter 6 – The Nordic Diet

A balanced diet is important for everyone, but the benefits for people prone to depression are even greater. A healthy diet reduces the risk of major depression.

Another study5 found that older adults who ate a healthy Nordic diet had better cognitive status than those who ate processed foods, high-fat foods, and carbohydrates.

6.1. Simplicity on the plate

The Nordic diet is a common-sense approach to nutrition that emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish. Another important element is whole-grain bread. Potatoes and root vegetables are also good fiber, magnesium, and potassium sources. Using oils low in saturated fats such as rapeseed oil or “extra virgin” raw olive oil is recommended.

Messages from Patrick Borg, a leading nutritionist and author of several books:

  • Eat well and lose weight!
  • Eat a balanced diet, including lots of vegetables and fruit, poultry and fish, and whole grains – and occasionally, you can have a burger, fries, and a slice of cake.
  • Increase healthy foods instead of focusing on reducing harmful foods.

Borg’s highlights of Finnish cuisine:

  • Rye bread (aids digestion and helps regulate blood sugar, which prevents diabetes).
  • Berries (according to LUKE, they contain important vitamins and minerals, are high in fiber and not very caloric, and are rich in polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants).
  • Water is another key element of a healthy diet. Finland has some of the cleanest water sources on the planet.

6.2. Food from the garden

Most Finns have plots where they can plant fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Their tradition is to pick fruits and vegetables in the summer, as well as to freeze or store them for the winter months. They enjoy doing this with their own hands and spending time in nature.

Tina, a friend of Pantzar’s, has developed a special approach to the gifts of nature in her garden, which she calls “Nordic Zen.”

6.3. At the Villa

For many Finns, a summer villa outside the city (mӧkki in Finnish) is a kind of national institution. It is a place where people rest, relax, and recharge.

Living in the north has taught her to appreciate each of the four seasons and to pay attention to details such as the ever-changing light. In summer it seems inexhaustible and in winter there is a deficit, and the author has begun to cherish it and see it in a whole new way.

Nordic nutritional advice:

  • Follow the straightforward formula with the plate divided into three parts: ½ vegetables – cooked or fresh in a salad, ¼ potatoes, rice, pasta, or grain, and ¼ protein in the form of fish, poultry or other meat, legumes, adki, and seeds.
  • When choosing food at a grocery store, look at your shopping cart. Does it reflect the formula described above? Think about the colors of the rainbow: do you see varying colors of fruits and vegetables in your cart?
  • Add fruit and berries to your morning porridge of oatmeal or other cereals. Or eat fruit between main meals.
  • Follow the seasons when making food choices.
  • Choose thirst-quenching water over other drinks.
  • If you don’t have a garden, you can plant tomatoes or herbs in boxes on the windowsill.
  • Farmer’s markets and self-service farms, where customers pick up their own produce, are a popular option.
  • Forest picking is a great opportunity to learn more about the wild mushrooms and berries that grow in areas near you.

Chapter 7 – Getting a Healthy Start

Here, the journalist talks about the birth of her child. [This is how I learned about the Finnish maternity and childcare system.]

7.1.  The famous “baby box”

Bonus for pregnant women:

  • Regular prenatal check-ups
  • Health consultations during pregnancy
  • Designated seat on the bus
  • Arrival of a famous baby box – a set of essentials for the newborn

In the late 1930s, Finland had a problem: low birth rates and high infant mortality, and the concept of this box came to fruition as a result.

7.2. Early years

Here the author talks about her postpartum depression, and the reasons for it: hormonal storm, stress from the major life change, insomnia, and insufficient physical activity. She turned to a professional for help.

Katja explains how important it is to share with a psychologist or a friend how you are feeling because just saying the problem out loud makes it less painful.

Finnish women are entitled to one year of maternity leave. When she enrolled her child in a daycare center, she realized that Finland has a good education system and that professional teachers and educators take care of the children.

There are no televisions or iPads in the kindergartens. Children learn to communicate, play together, sing, build, create, use a knife, fork and spoon, eat a balanced diet.

A hot lunch is provided, which is also available at a later stage of schooling.

7.3. Preschools

Kindergarten fees are income-dependent and capped. Primary and secondary schools in Finland are free. University education is virtually free for Finns and EU residents.

The author points out that Finnish children play outside all year round. An exception is made only when temperatures fall below a certain critical point. This is also good training for sisu.

During recess, they provide wooden boxes full of toys that can be used by all children. According to the author, this is a good idea, given that the planet is cluttered with things.

7.4. At school

In 2001, Finnish students achieved the highest scores in reading, mathematics, and science of any OECD country.

The journalist reveals that the children’s success is due to good kindergartens and pre-schools/nurseries. There, they are not subjected to aggressive academic instruction but are allowed to be children, play, sleep in the afternoon, etc.

7.5. Sisu for children

[The skills my son learned in kindergarten and preschool taught him not to give up when faced with adversity.]

Children learn to be independent and self-reliant from an early age.

[Preschool education in Finland is not designed to focus on children’s academic preparation. Its main goal is to ensure the development of all children as happy and responsible individuals.]

According to Salberg, a teacher, author, scientist, international speaker, and former director general of the Finnish Ministry of Educationthere are three main areas of focus:

  • Play (play is important for growing up, for personality development, for self-esteem)
  • Security (Finland is a relatively safe country)
  • Health (health during the prenatal period, as well as care for mother and baby after birth)

He also draws attention to the social equality between children, which is highly developed.

[Finnish education does not include sisu as a subject matter but is part of the culture in many schools.]

The teaching profession is highly respected and desired: [Our education system is based on a strong sense of professionalism, and we enjoy the luxury of working in an environment of trust.]

Children don’t need to be in a classroom, on the contrary – their connection to nature is stimulated by spending time outdoors.

Sisu for children

  • Encourage a connection with nature. Nature is a great educational setting to learn more about the environment, animals, insects, plants, trees, and flowers.
  • Allow children to climb, jump, and run in parks and forests.
  • Play with your children on the fall leaf piles or walk around at night with flashlights.
  • Instead of buying toys at the store, encourage children to make items from used cereal boxes or other discarded items.
  • Play develops a wide range of skills – from counting to creative imagination.
  • Support the child by encouraging him or her not to give up if he or she fails on the first try. Some of the greatest joys in life are overcoming obstacles, not avoiding them.

Chapter 8 – Pedaling to Happiness (and Health)

Pedaling to Happiness Katja Pantzar book The Finnish Way

[My bike rides enable me to pay attention to my surroundings. Every day I see small miracles and often stop to photograph the light, snow, or leaves, brimming with gratitude, previously unknown.]

Even cycling in rainy, gloomy weather becomes a sisu exercise for the author. It gives her an adrenaline rush and recharges her for the day. She feels much more cheerful and happy afterward.

8.1. Cycling and sisu

Katja Pantzar learned her first sisu lessons from her colleagues. [Cycling in minus 10 degrees Celsius requires proper gloves and shoes, a warm hat under your helmet, with a waterproof jacket and pants.]

She invested in a bike of Scandinavian practicality that expressed her desire to make things easier. [I invested in a quality bike that will last so I don’t have to buy a new one every few years.]

8.2. The benefits of cycling

The author’s new Scandinavian definition of luxury: not owning a personal car. She believes that cycling is a solution to many of the problems facing the world today – from traffic congestion to pollution to the health damage associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

The Finnish capital has an ambitious plan to make the city center almost completely car-free by 2025, through the Mobility on Demand initiative.

Cycling reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Any physical activity also increases brain activity.

8.3. Cycling in the snow

Many Finnish cities have a strong winter cycling culture and large communities of people believe that cycling in the Arctic is not very difficult.

According to Timo Perala, a key figure in the organization of the first World Winter Cycling Congress, no one in Oulu is considered an avid cyclist because it is a normal way to get around. 22-27% of cyclists ride in winter, as 98% of the city’s cycling network is maintained year-round and is well-lit.

[It’s vital that the bike network is accessible to everyone and can be used by children as well as adults.] He says he bikes year-round with his five-year-old daughter. She has been riding since she was two years old. This is a wonderful example of instilling sisu – the parent communicates with the child outdoors, provides fresh air and physical activity, and enhances independence and free spirit.

8.4. Exercise for all

Perala says that most people lack basic physical education. If you’re training for a triathlon, you need endurance, and biking and walking are great ways to build it. [The easiest way to stay fit is to do activities that are part of your daily routine that don’t require too much effort.]

8.5. Cycling is fun

The author shares that in addition to the health benefits of cycling, it also makes her happy.

8.6. Happiness is not to be sought but experienced

[The purpose of school is that you find a way to learn that makes you happy.]

[Education is the key to happiness and a good life.]

Cycling and sisu

  • Cycling solves a number of problems – eliminates a sedentary lifestyle, improves mood, relieves stress, and stimulates the brain and creativity.
  • If possible, use a bike for transportation. It will save you time and money.
  • Equip yourself with the necessities: helmet, waterproof outerwear, lights, and reflectors. Once you have the basic equipment, it will be easier to make cycling a daily or weekly habit.
  • Don’t set your goals too high. Even a few miles a day or a week will do you good – the important thing is to enjoy it.
  • Find a like-minded person to ride with. With company, it’s easier and much more fun.
  • If cycling is not an option in your village, look for alternative places to cycle nearby – parks, forests, etc.

Chapter 9 – The Benefits of Movement as Medicine

By implementing two key concepts well known to all Finns, the author realized that there are other ways, beyond pills, to treat headaches and muscle cramps, as well as emotional pain such as depression and anxiety.

  1. Liike on lääke – Movement is medicine.
  2. Hyӧtyliikunta – The benefits of accidental, unintentional physical activity in daily life or, figuratively, ‘getting fit outside the gym.’

Pantzar gradually reduced the depression pills she was taking until she finally stopped them altogether. Her doctor advised her to exercise more and talk more.

9.1. The source of my despondency

Katya shares the cause of her depression in this section. She attributes it to her sensitive nature and excessive thinking and analysis. It was not until she turned 40 that she accepted herself as she is. Outsiderism even helps her to feel at home wherever she goes. She also realizes that walking in nature helps relieve her stress and brings her out of despondency.

9.2. Movement as a remedy

[I am beginning to realize that “movement”, even in small amounts, has a tremendously beneficial effect.] She doesn’t need a strict fitness program to improve her physical and mental condition, but a few simple and easy things (like using the stairs instead of the elevator, taking short breaks during work, exercising with your hands, etc.).

9.3. “Casual” fitness – or fitness outside the gym

These are activities such as cleaning the house, walking in the woods, cycling, shoveling snow, picking up leaves in the yard, etc.

The Finns don’t go to the doctor for every kind of pain but simply treat themselves with movement. [This acceptance of pain that comes with aging is also part of the sensible Nordic approach.]

9.4. Physical activity that is beneficial to health

Finland has a special institute to promote physical activity called the UKK Institute. One of its main tasks is to ‘develop effective research-based practices that reduce sedentary lifestyles and promote healthy physical activity.’

According to this institute, physical activity such as picking mushrooms and berries, playing with your child, etc. reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, slows the development of osteoporosis, and relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety.

*Health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA)

9.5. Sisu and the DIY (do it yourself) principle

Finns prefer to clean their homes themselves, instead of paying someone else to do it. This approach is part of the sisu mentality of the Finns and their tendency to do their own housework.

9.6. Outdoor fitness

Casual movement is not a substitute for real physical exercise. Ideally, both should be done, although this of course depends on the age and health of the person.

What attracts the author to do sports here in Finland is the lack of competition. That’s why she turned down an offer to participate in a winter swimming competition. [One of the many reasons I love this ice sport so much is that I have nothing to prove to anyone.]

Movement as medicine

[Seize every opportunity to move, even the lightest and for the shortest amount of time. Don’t look for reasons to avoid daily ‘movement’ at work, at home, on your way to work, and in your free time.] – Professor Ilka Vuori, expert in ‘movement as medicine’

  • If you experience muscle tension, stiffness, or stress, ease the discomfort of movement by taking a short walk.
  • When mowing the lawn or doing household chores, do light stretching exercises.
  • Plan your next business meeting as a walk, instead of sitting in an office.
  • If you want to measure your progress and set goals, you need a pedometer to monitor your daily activity.
  • Exercise and physical activity strengthen your health and toughen you up, which in turn increases your sisu.

Chapter 10 – Embracing Nordic Minimalism

10.1. A new approach

In Finland, ostentatious materialism is frowned upon.

Nordic minimalism – the idea that “less is more.”

Finnish design is known worldwide for its timeless purity and functionality. The philosophy of Finnish design is that a quality functional item, produced in a sustainable and ethical way, will stand the test of time much more effectively than a handful of cheap products.

10.2. Democracy of design

[Poor people can’t afford to buy cheap things], goes a famous Finnish aphorism.

Finnish design embodies the ideas of equality and accessibility – ideas that stand out in other areas of Finnish life, from education to physical activity.

The author has come to see this concept as democratic because it is for everyone and aims to improve the quality of everyday life.

10.3. Use wisely

In connection with the mass trend to buy antiques or second-hand objects in Finland, the author shares an example with Siivouspäivä (“Clearing Day”). It takes place twice a year, in May and August, and the goal is for people to clean their homes, get rid of what they don’t need, and sell it second-hand. Panzar supports this concept and even tells how she took advantage of this day to buy things she needed.

10.4. Less is more

[I had to live in Northern Europe for a few years to realize that ‘small’ is Zen.]

Pantzar also says the advantage of living in a central location in the city is the combination of employment opportunities, services, entertainment venues, the presence of cultural events, and good transportation links. [In my case, the most important factor is shifting the focus from possessions to experiences (as described by James Wallman).] She wouldn’t give up biking for anything because it is too important to her.

10.5. The charm of the old

Thrift shopping is routine here and part of the community’s strong environmental consciousness, which the author has also assimilated since living here.

[Trust and honesty are highly valued here.] That is, the description of a used product was always accurate.

10.6. Creating a functional lifestyle

The journalist tells us that the influence of Nordic design has given her the opportunity to apply this type of thinking to other areas of her life. For example, the office she chose to practice her profession in is now openly shared with other freelance journalists and editors. It is located 3 miles from her home so that she can get the physical activity she needs. She also shares that she eats healthily with her colleagues, from whom she receives advice and support.

Creating a simpler and more sustainable way of life

  • Use wisely. Think about it: where will this product go when I no longer need it? Can it be donated or sold?
  • Consider buying an old product instead of a new one.
  • Invest in quality items that will last, instead of buying a large number of poor-quality items that will quickly go to waste.
  • Leverage your sisu and make an effort to create a more functional lifestyle. Perhaps less living space with less stuff will improve your quality of life by reducing your maintenance and transportation costs to your workplace?

Conclusion: Finding Your Sisu

In this last section, the author shares with us one of her greatest joys and inspirations, the birth of her son.

Her definition of sisu in 4 subsections, sisu is:

  • The courage to accept challenges, big or small
  • The ability to take action when faced with difficulty and hardship
  • The willingness to try new experiences and go beyond what you have accepted as limits – whether physical, mental or emotional
  • The search for practical solutions and ways to move forward, to build strength and resilience

[Sisu requires a positive application of willpower. It is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.]

[All of us, no matter where we live or what we do, struggle with the same issues in our daily lives. If we harness the power of our sisu and take care of our well-being, we will become more resilient, more balanced, and more able to cope with stress and health issues in general.]

Some practices that the author advises us to adopt to build our own sisu, wherever we are in the world:

  • Don’t always take the easy way out.
  • Maintain daily contact with nature.
  • Share your concerns/worries, don’t keep them to yourself.
  • Don’t be a maximalist.

[A key element of the sisu philosophy is that it puts independence and self-confidence on a pedestal and encourages us to shape our own individual sisu.]

Conclusion on Katja Pantzar’s “The Finnish Way”:


Winter swimming provides a natural and effective way to treat your ailments but also motivates you to explore other ways to improve your overall well-being, such as forest therapy. According to the author, sisu is an approach, a life attitude that can be learned.

The greatest act of manifesting her sisu so far is telling her story. [By accepting myself and one of my weaknesses (depression), I have gained strength through the candid story of my inner struggles.]

[Sisu is about feeling comfortable with discomfort. Sisu is also about realizing and acknowledging that change is necessary – and having the courage to end, for example, an unhappy relationship, no matter how hard it is for you.]

She shares the example of her extremely difficult decision to divorce her husband as she was finishing her book.

In all the places Katja has lived, nothing kept her from learning elements of the Nordic way of life, but when she moved to Finland, she learned to simplify her life, to focus not on weakness, but on strength to find and form her sisu.


  • A unique Finnish tenacity, fighting spirit, and resilience to challenges, whether big or small, that anyone can develop
  • A life attitude that sees challenges as opportunities
  • An ancient Finnish concept dating back to the 16th century

A ‘healthy’ reading

“The Finnish Way” is a book that teaches us to live with respect for ourselves, others, and the environment in which we live. Sisu is an art that can be taken up by anyone, anywhere in the world. This was a greatly useful book for me and helped me make even more sense of many things I do in my life, and also gave me new ideas on how to rediscover my own sisu.

The depression the author speaks about reminded me of the depression I fell into some time ago. Katja Pantzar talks about her ways of overcoming this illness. I relate them to my own attempts to overcome it, which fortunately were successful.

Nature, physical activity, my loved ones, training my mind with the things I love, having a child… all this has already changed my life. My new world has become more beautiful and better than ever.

Environmental protection is also a hot-button issue for me. I find that the author raises a lot of awareness around it and makes us think about what our position should be on the matter.

The book is an easy read and a good way to prepare for the future while remaining physically and mentally healthy. It is also a wonderful and valuable guide for creating a more wholesome life.

Genka Shapkarova of the Happiness blog

Strong points:    

  • An enjoyable book to read, which exudes the strong spirit that is sisu.
  • A wonderful guide to a healthier lifestyle.
  • A true story in which you can rediscover yourself and with which you can build a healthy mind and spirit.

Weak point:

  • In many places, facts are repeated that on the one hand would be considered unnecessary, but on the other hand the author tells different stories of different people and each one recounts his or her position, which overlaps with the others, as all are in the spirit of sisu.

My rating : Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins Unlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony RobbinsUnlimited Power by Anthony Robbins

Have you read “The Finnish Way”? How do you rate it?

Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


Read more reviews on Amazon about “The Finnish Way”

Buy on Amazon “The Finnish Way”

A handy guide to Katja Pantzar’s “The Finnish Way

The 5 benefits of winter swimming listed by Katja Pantzar in her book:

  1. Relieves stress
  2. Increases cold tolerance
  3. Boosts the immune system
  4. Acts as an analgesic
  5. Acts as a natural stimulant in case of fatigue

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) concerning Katja Pantzar’s The Finnish Way

1. How has the public received Katja Pantzar’s book The Finnish Way?

Available online and in bookstores, the book ‘The Finnish Way’ published on June 6, 2019 (French version by Belfond Editions) and has been a great success with the public with hundreds of thousands of copies sold worldwide along with positive reviews on Amazon.

2. What has been the impact The Finnish Way?

The practice of thesisu method revealed by Katja Pantzar in this book has had a huge impact on the readers by promoting good health: from immune stimulation to reduced fatigue and stress. It has gradually changed the lives of the readers by becoming a natural remedy for depression.

3. For whom is The Finnish Way intended?

This book is for everyone in general and especially for professionals of all kinds and for all those who are suffering from depression, fatigue, illness, stress, etc.

4. What does the sisu method mean according to Emilie Lahti?

According to Emily Lahti, one of the world’s leading sisu researchers, sisu is the mental fortitude and the ability to endure significant stress in the struggle to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

5. What are the roots of sisu according to Maria Lansimaki?

According to linguist Maria Lansimakisisuappears in writing in16th-century texts both as a character trait or aspect of personality and as an internal meaning of something.

The positive effects of the sauna versus the benefits of winter swimming

The positive effects of the saunaBenefits of winter swimming
Relaxes tired musclesRelieves stress
Relieves tension and fatigue (both mental and physical)Increases cold tolerance
Improves blood flowBoosts the immune system
Optimizes sleepActs as an analgesic
Enhances immunityActs as a natural stimulant in case of fatigue

Who is Katja Pantzar?

Katja Pantzar

Katja Pantzar is a writer, journalist and editor by profession. She spent her childhood in Canada and has acquaintances in England and New Zealand. She now lives in Finland, the country of her parents. Passionate about the sisu method, she has found happiness in the country that is (aptly) recognized as the happiest in the world by the World Happiness report. She is the author of the book ”The Finnish Way’‘ in which she reveals the sisu method the application of which has helped readers to improve their health in several ways ranging from immune stimulation to the reduction of fatigue and stress.

Have you read Katja Pantzar’s book The Finnish Way? If so, how do you rate it?

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