Sisu and The World Happiness Report

“We have had hygge (the Danish art of practicing all things cozy ), now let me introduce you to Sisu” says Aisling Larkin Tv chef and wellbeing coach. 

Each year a report is done to assess what are the happiest countries in the world. In this year of a global pandemic here is a list of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

  1. Finland 🇫🇮
  2. Iceland 🇮🇸
  3. Denmark 🇩🇰
  4. Switzerland 🇨🇭
  5. Netherlands 🇳🇱
  6. Sweden 🇸🇪
  7. Germany 🇩🇪
  8. Norway 🇳🇴
  9. New Zealand 🇳🇿
  10. Austria 🇦🇹

Finland has topped the list again with Iceland coming second, Denmark 3rd and Switzerland 4th. 

Ireland was named 13th on the list of happiest countries in the world surpassing the UK, USA and Canada which is not bad at all. 

So what can we learn from our international counterparts about happiness and wellbeing. It emerges year after year that wellbeing and trust are two of the most important factors in ranking high on the World Happiness report. 

Back in 2018 I spent 9 months “commuting” over and back to Helsinki in Finland for 1 week out of every month. I had to leave my 4 year old and my new 6 month old baby so going somewhere that ranked high on happiness really helped to save my well-being. 

So what did I learn about the Finnish way of life from my year working with the University of Helsinki. 

In Finnish culture they have a wonderful philosophy called Sisu, which dates back to the 15th century.  It is describes as  spirit or an attitude  by which we can live; a mindset of action. It is about having a ‘can do’ and courageous mindset that allows us to be open to new challenges, move outside our comfort zone, have fortitude to carry out and continue with the challenges when difficult and believe that you can do. It requires us to be mindful and considered with our actions each day. 

The spirit of Sisu embodies resilience and honours independence and autonomy. You must remember though you never boast about having Sisu, you let your actions do the talking.

Daily Sisu is an act of self care. Through simple accomplishments each day we build our sense of self worth, purpose and self belief which ultimately helps to boost our sense of physical, mental and emotional well-being. 

We can all rewire our brain to incorporate a little more Sisu –  some resilience, increased ability to cope, the ability to persevere, believing in our own inner self power and gratitude for all that we already have. 

So how do we do this… we try to rewire our brains ….

The science of neruoplasty will tell us that in order to rewire the brain or then, may help “rewrite” these patterns to improve well-being it takes a combination of elements but starting with small, simple daily habits can be one of the most effectives ways to do this.

Here are some simple daily practices you need to slowly build into your routines in order to live a live of  sisu, well-being and happiness. 

  1. Have a purpose in life . A sense of purpose in life can give us meaning,  a sense of direction and motivation. It is about remembering there world is bigger than you, allowing you tho think about all the greatness that is out there for you to achieve. 
  2. Get out of your comfort zone and try a new lifestyle trend. Ensure it has a body – mind connection where you are fully engaged and present both physically and mentally. In the last few weeks of summer before we return to  our hygge lifestyles of rain gear, fleeces, candles and cozy blankets get outside. Hike, climb, walk, cycle, swim, dance. Make sure your activity is something valuable, interesting and relevant to you. Sisu is all about finding your own inner strength, not following the latest fad or trend.  A huge part of Finnish culture is sea swimming in the cold Nordic waters in the middle of winter with nothing but a swimsuit, swimshoes and a bobble hat. This requires sisu that action mindset; that we can face this challenge, persevere, survive and be grateful for it at the end.Perhaps the dramatic rise in  sea swimming in Ireland over the last 2 years has helped us considerably in improving our wellbeing and rising the ranks of the World Happiness Report. 

  1. Remember it is all about talking that first small step, it is not about being an expert at the beginning or being perfect it is about overcoming the small challenges and feeling that give that sense of accomplishment knowing that you did it even if you didn’t feel like. You did it. It is about continually pushing and striving to do just that 1% better in all the tasks you do. No big gestures, just a little better in the ordinary, daily practices. 
  1. Don’t push too hard at the beginning. Remember it is not about achieving one big goal it is about overcoming small challenges and creating those new habits. If you push too hard at ht beginning you may want to stop too soon as it is “too hard” instead of just “a little tough but we know we can survive”.
  1. Sisu can also look like tackling those tasks and jobs you have been putting off for ages; make that call, book that appointment, sort out that quote, prep the salad the night before, tackle the housework, sort out that messy top drawer, clear out the wardrobe. We all know that endless list of these jobs that no one likes to do but you know you are capable and they just have to be done. Sisu is about getting comfortable with the discomfort and just doing them. They can create a sense of low level stress, anxiety and even dread when ignored and this effects our overall sense of well-being. So just do them, create a short “to do” list  –  3 items and just do it. Go in to the mild discomfort, survive it and instantly experience that sense of Sisu, satisfaction  and wellbeing. 
  1. Stay Calm. There is no need for overreaction. Remember to respond calmly to challenges and do not react harshly, rashly or irrationally. In the true spirit of Sisu, take that breath, step back, take a moment, process and then respond and act. 
  1. The art of sisu and developing this resilience should not just be reserved for the really big, hard moments in life. It is the cornerstone of contentment. “We need to appreciate the difference between happiness and contentment” says Aisling Larkin. Happiness is a fleeting entity with peaks and troughs – it comes and goes, increases and decreases, while contentment   – that satisfaction with being present, living in the moment and being grateful for all that we have is the essence of wellbeing. It is about finding joy and happiness in the ordinary and not waiting for those big perfect once in a lifetime moments. It is about finding peace and contentment in the ordinary. 

  1. Don’t forget to ask for help. That sense of Sisu comes from a sense of comradary, a togetherness and a sense of community. 
  1. Finally remember hope. One of the things that struck me the most about my time in Helsinki was this sense of calmness and the acceptance that they live with short dark days for 8 months of the year but all the while knowing that spring and summer are coming, the bright is coming and better days are ahead. Have hope. 

Reference Information 

Top 10 Countries in the Happiness Index 

  1. Finland 🇫🇮
  2. Iceland 🇮🇸
  3. Denmark 🇩🇰
  4. Switzerland 🇨🇭
  5. Netherlands 🇳🇱
  6. Sweden 🇸🇪
  7. Germany 🇩🇪
  8. Norway 🇳🇴
  9. New Zealand 🇳🇿
  10. Austria 🇦🇹

The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by data from the Gallup World Poll and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, who provided access to the World Risk Poll. The 2021 Report includes data from the ICL-YouGov Behaviour Tracker as part of the COVID Data Hub from the Institute of Global Health Innovation.

The Report is supported by The Ernesto Illy Foundation, illycaffè, Davines Group, The Blue Chip Foundation, The William, Jeff, and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation, The Happier Way Foundation, Indeed, and Unilever’s largest ice cream brand, Wall’s.

The World Happiness Report was written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities. Any views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization, agency or program of the United Nations.


{Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt. Or, as Dr. Campbell  (Dr. Celeste Campbell is a neuropsychologist in the Polytrauma Program at the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center.) puts it: “It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganise in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences”}

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