The World Happiness Report named Finland as the happiest country on Earth, and for one Canadian writer living in the Nordic country, that might be due in part to the cultural practice of ice swimming.
Helsinki-based Katja Pantzar, author of The Finnish Way, told 680 CJOB that she quickly became hooked on the idea of ‘sisu’ – a local concept of resilience – upon moving to Finland.
“Instead of ‘oh, the weather is terrible, the conditions are terrible’, you embrace the challenge,” said Pantzar.
“The idea is that the challenge will make you stronger. My book is the kind of daily sisu that a lot of Finns practice, doing things like winter swimming and winter cycling.”
While she was familiar with one-off events like the polar bear swim when she was living in Canada, Pantzar said it’s a much more deeply embedded cultural practice in Finland.
“The idea behind ice swimming is that it’s this fabulous pick-you-up if you’re feeling tired, stressed or a little bit down.
“At this time of year, it’s dark in many places. Winter comes with coldness and darkness. You go for a dip, say 30 seconds or one minute, then you go back inside and have a sauna.
“You can repeat this a couple of times and you just end up feeling super energized and it’s a way to embrace the cold, dark months.”
Pantzar said there’s some scientific research behind it, and when she got hooked on ice swimming, she wanted to find out more.
The cold water, she said, helps release endorphins, helps maintain mood balance, triggers the brain’s reward and pleasure centres, and much more.
Happiness, though, she admits, is a hard thing to measure.
Canada sits among the top 10 countries in the world on a regular basis – typically in the company of the likes of Finland, Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
“Happiness is such an abstract concept,” said Pantzar. “If you came to Finland in the middle of winter, the people are not very small-talky, not very smiley… and they’re known for that, but the Finns are happiest when they’re out doing things.”