About sisu and psychological safety

These both can provide ingredients for wellbeing, says Emilia Lahti, who inspired her audience at Aalto Wellbeing Week.
Keynote speaker Emilia Lahti at Aalto Wellbeing Week, photo by Mikko Raskinen
Leading a life of courage and compassion was Emilia Lahti’s topic on Aalto Wellbeing Week held recently in October.

Recently, during Aalto Wellbeing Week, Emilia Lahti, a doctoral student at the School of Science, shared her insights on two vital phenomena: “sisu”, a certain kind of inner strength, and psychological safety. These two as a pairings when understood and practiced, can offer potent ingredients for creating wellbeing within our communities, work places and families.

When you have a chance, take a break in your day and delve into Emilia’s thoughts with the video recording, by practicing your mind or by reading.

Emilia Lahti tells:

‘The ancient Finnish construct of sisu is hundreds of years old but it is highly relevant to the human’s of our contemporary time. Sisu lacks a direct translation but it denotes a kind of embodied fortitude that people everywhere draw from when facing adversity. Sisu is also a cultural construct and in Finland it relates to values such as integrity and doing something with high quality – even when no one is there to validate us. This way, an entire life philosophy to some, can also relate to what kind of decisions and actions we take in the privacy of our daily lives.

Another research concept brought up in the video, psychological safety, means the belief that you don’t have to worry about being shamed for your ideas or if you make a mistake. Safety creates a space for positive emotions such as trust and curiosity, and research has shown that positive emotions like these “broaden” the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. Creating safe spaces, not only for ourselves (having inner talk that is encouraging), but to others, however, requires vulnerability and this can take us to a place that may require a level of inner fortitude. In a world where it seems only rational to hide behind masks and not show our heart, it might be the courage to show up as we are that takes the most guts. Cultivating a mindset of sisu can help us be bolder in honesty and more open, which, in turn, is conducive to trust and psychological safety.'

Read more about Emilia’s research and embodied fortitude

To practice

 1. Think to a time where you faced a problem that seemed insurmountable? How did you overcome it and what did you learn about yourself and your sisu?

 2. Think back to a person who has been a positive influence in your life. What kind of qualities do they have? What can you learn from those people about leadership, friendship, or mentorship?

3. Are there areas in your own life at the moment that could benefit from creating more psychological safety (for yourself or others) and what might having more sisu your life look like? What one step could you take today to cultivate these qualities?


Fredrickson B. L. & Joiner T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science 13:172–175.

Jef J.J. van den Hout, Orin C. Davis & Mathieu C.D.P. Weggeman (2018) The Conceptualization of Team Flow, The Journal of Psychology, 152:6, 388-423, doi:10.1080/00223980.2018.1449729

Lahti, E., (2019). Embodied fortitude: An introduction to the Finnish construct of sisu. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(1), 61-82. doi:10.5502/ijw.v9i1.672


Photo: Mikko Raskinen

Video: Sampsa Kares / Aalto Studios

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