WELL­BE­ING

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Editor' s Letter -

Few of us es­cape ex­pe­ri­ences – big and small, short- and long-term – that leave us feel­ing life has kicked us in the teeth. How we deal with them can af­fect the course of our lives. The su­per­model Lau­ren Hut­ton once told me the only way she had been able to shift her neg­a­tive at­ti­tude at a very dark time in her life was to face the demons that threat­ened to over­whelm her. It en­abled her to move for­ward and take risks, from ex­plor­ing new ca­reer paths to rid­ing pow­er­ful mo­tor­bikes.

Con­fronting life’s chal­lenges and car­ry­ing on when the go­ing gets tough de­mands courage, grit and re­silience, qual­i­ties com­bined in the Fin­nish con­cept of ‘sisu’ (say it ‘sis-uh’). Al­though it orig­i­nated at least 500 years ago sisu is still rel­e­vant, ac­cord­ing to Joanna Ny­lund, au­thor of Sisu: The Fin­nish Art of Courage, a pocket-sized book that ev­ery­one could ben­e­fit from read­ing in this age of uncer­tainty.

Al­though sisu is about a men­tal at­ti­tude, it lit­er­ally means the guts in­side our bod­ies, stem­ming from the an­cient be­lief that that is where your strength re­sides – ‘the fire in one’s belly’, Joanna ex­plains. (This is es­pe­cially fas­ci­nat­ing given new re­search on the vi­tal two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween our guts and our brains, which I wrote about last week.)

Sisu came to the fore in au­tumn 1939 when Fin­land was in­vaded by the Soviet Union. The out­look was grim, but it be­came known as Fin­land’s finest hour. Al­though vastly out­num­bered in sol­diers, tanks and air­craft, the tiny na­tion re­pelled the in­vaders, a tri­umph that was largely put down to sisu. But it wasn’t just guts, guile and de­ter­mi­na­tion that pre­vailed; sisu also needs team­work.

‘Sisu comes into its own when we are un­der pres­sure,’ writes Joanna. ‘In dif­fi­cult times, we need to be able to lean on each other. Con­fid­ing in some­one when you feel vul­ner­a­ble will not only make you feel bet­ter, it will strengthen your bond to that per­son.’ Us­ing that prin­ci­ple in any com­mu­nity – fam­ily, friends, neigh­bour­hoods or work­places – cre­ates a pos­i­tive cir­cle where ev­ery­one can tap into sup­port when they need it.

This gem of a book gives lots of prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions for dis­cov­er­ing and nur­tur­ing the qual­i­ties that will help you to bounce back and fight when life knocks you down or when your stom­ach is churn­ing be­cause you’re anx­ious about a chal­lenge such as a job in­ter­view.

We all have in­ner re­serves of strength, but we may not be aware of them, partly be­cause of the con­stant din of ev­ery­day liv­ing, says Joanna. ‘Clear and calm your mind through med­i­ta­tion, prayer, deep-breath­ing or spend­ing time in na­ture, which serves as a nat­u­ral an­tide­pres­sant [see box, above].’

Joanna’s book Sisu: The Fin­nish Art of Courage is pub­lished by Gaia Books, price £10. To or­der a copy for £8 un­til 15 April, visit mail­shop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on or­ders over £15

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