Five years ago, if someone had told Canadian-born Katja Pantzar that her ideal night out would involve jumping through ice into frigid seawater, while the outside temperature was minus 10 degrees, she would have laughed at them. Had they suggested it as a natural remedy for the bouts of bone-crushing depression she’d suffered since childhood, she would have called them crazy. Countless daily dips in Findland’s icy Helsinki harbour later and Pantzar is not dismissive anymore. She’s also no longer taking medication for depression. In fact, she’s become so enamoured of year-round swimming and other aspects of Nordic life, she’s written a book about it. Finding Sisu: In Search of Courage, Strength and Happiness The Finnish Way chronicles how she found her sisu, a unique type of Finnish fortitude and perseverance, and how you can find yours too.
In 2017, the United Nation’s World Happiness Report ranked Finland in the top five of their index, alongside Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. We’ve heard much about Denmark’s tradition of creating ambience and atmosphere, known as hygge, and Sweden and Norway have lagom, a philosophy about living in moderation. In Finland, where Pantzar now lives, sisu (pronounced see-su) dates to the 1500s and she suggests the hardships the Finns have faced, including the great famine of the 1860s, which left 200,000 dead, and two world wars, have helped to cultivate this resilient mindset. The “Winter War” of 1939-40 between Finland and the Soviet Union was a legendary example. Finnish ski troops, camouflaged against the snow, inflicted heavy casualties, despite being greatly outnumbered.
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