Book Notes #15: “The Finnish Way” By Katja Pantzar

by | Jun 7, 2023

A thoughtful introduction to Finnish culture and principles. I knew very little about Finland and its culture, and I read this book based because it was recommended by Kindle. I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books lately. So this one fits right in.

The Finnish Way
By Katja Pantzar

Here are my main takeaways. I like that each chapter has a bulleted list of takeaways, too.

  • Sisu
    The unofficial motto of Finland is “Sisu, sauna, and Sibelius.” Sauna is self-explanatory in that Finland has many saunas, and that’s where you go to relax and connect with others. Sibelius is the name of a famous composer (and music notation software).

    Sisu is Finnish fortitude or resilience. It’s having a stiff upper lip and rolling with the punches. It’s the gritty and minimalist way of life.

    Pantzar spends a significant amount of time in search of a definition of what seems to be an ineffable concept that is at the heart of the Finnish ethos.

    Daily examples of sisu include taking the stairs, fix things instead of buying new things, cycle/walk to work/school.

    Sisu is a way of life to actively transform the challenges that come our way into opportunities…Sisu is an ancient Finnish construct relating to mental toughness, fortitude, and resilience…It’s the ability to endure significant stress, while taking action against seemingly impossible odds.

  • The Sea is a Pharmacy 
    Pantzar moved from Canada to Finland (where her ancestors are from) and describes her exhilarating experience going for a dip in the ice cold water. Apparently swimming in cold water serves as a sort of “shock therapy” that can provide relief and healing. It can relieve stress.

    Cold water may even help with depression. The more you do it, the more tolerance you gain for the cold. She seems to yearn now for an icy bath instead of an evening drink.

    She even goes for a 15-to-30 second cold shower occasionally. There are historical examples of this practice: The Romans used to take cold baths and then go into warm baths.

    As my stamina and sisu grow, I develop a better resistance to cold and it no longer feels so painful during those first seconds of immersion. There’s also a ‘no pain, no gain’ mind-set that I adopt, for I have discovered that those first initial seconds of extreme discomfort will be rewarded by a fantastic feeling of bliss.

    A dip of about thirty seconds to one minute in water that’s on average 4 degrees Celsius during the winter months causes what’s known as a ‘hormone storm,’ as many of the so-called happy hormones are pushed into action…The happy hormones include endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers; serotonin, dopamine; and oxytocin.

  • Social saunas
    Finns go to saunas to be with other people. It’s been said that you can’t really get to know a Finnish person until you’re in the sauna with them. And it’s totally natural and expected to be naked together in sauna (with your own gender).Of course, many goto saunas to be alone and find peace. The sauna serves as a “natural digital detox zone — phones aren’t allowed and don’t belong in the hot steam.” It’s common practice to dip in cold water and then relax in a sauna.


  • Nature therapy
    Finns like to be outdoors. Going for a hike, run, bike is common practice. When you walk outside, you feel better and soak up the elements. A short walk can lower blood pressure and help your muscles relax.

    When you stand in the forest and look up at the trees, your own problems seem small…

    For Finns, the forest is akin to a church or temple.

  • Baby boxes
    The Finnish government sends expecting mothers a baby box which has a range of items such as sleeping bags, cloth diapers, and so on. Mothers even park their babies in strollers bundled up in the cold outside. Perhaps it’s a way of building sisu at a young age.


  • Movement as medicine
    I quite liked Pantzar’s commentary on the topic liike on lääke or movement as medicine, as well as hyötyliikunta or incidental exercise. Obviously, physical exercise has many health benefits and it’s an important part of the Finnish culture.

    Incidental exercise is like cleaning the house (and getting your steps in) or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You can systemically build in movement into your daily routines.

    As everyone knows, sitting is the new smoking.

  • Nordic Minimalism

    Less is more. Finnish design puts an emphasis on minimalism and functionalism. Get out of the way so and use what you need.A couple Finnish inventions are the dish-drying cupboard and pedestrian reflector.

    There’s a national Cleaning Day where Finns clean out their homes and give away/recycle belongings. The key is to focus less on possessions and more on experiences


  •  Quotables

    A called concept called “everyman’s rights” (jokamiehen oikeus) means that everyone can walk, ski, or cycle in the countryside so long as they don’t harm the natural environment or landowner’s property.


    I ladle water from a bucket over the heated rocks of the sauna’s stove to create löyly, the hot steam that rises when the water hits the sauna stove’s rocks.


    Finnish holds a reputation of being a hard language to learn… it lacks articles such as “a” and “the,” and it’s totally genderless – there is no “he” or “she” — instead hän refers to men and women, another nod to equality.