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The Happiness Track: Against Slim Odds

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Emilia Lahti, a doctoral student in psychology from Finland, set out to study the Finish concept of sisu, which she defines as “taking action against slim odds.” Much like grit and endurance, sisu is “the ability to overcome preconceived notions of one’s capacity or strength.” But she insists that sisu is not a cognitive concept. “It is about our embodied strength. The etymology of the word is ‘the intensities’ or ‘the insides’ or ‘the gut.’” Ever since Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”), most psychological research has been biased toward a disembodied and brain-centric understanding of the human mind. We’re supposed to be able to talk ourselves into our strength. “Sisu is the embodied counterpart of mental toughness,” Lahti explains. She believes it’s how humans overcome extreme adversities—and she decided to experiment on herself. Lahti trained for two years to get into perfect shape, and then, last January, she embarked on a journey of 50 daily, consecutive ultramarathons to run the entire length of New Zealand. She also had an activist purpose. A survivor of domestic violence, Lahti …

Emma Seppälä, PhD, is author of The Happiness Track, founder of FulfillmentDaily.com, and Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.


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