This Must Surely be the Way to Happiness!: Divergent “bite-size wisdoms” about Happiness in inspirational internet memes

  • Jennifer De Paola University of Helsinki
  • Eemeli Hakoköngäs University of Eastern Finland, Finland
Keywords: happiness, social media, social representation, inspirational memes, everyday thinking


The present study explores the contents and functions of inspirational memes addressing happiness in two cultural contexts, Finnish and Italian. Inspirational memes are understood as a mode of present-day folk wisdom conveying advice that can be easily memorized, shared and applied in everyday life. The material consists of 709 memes collected from Instagram and Facebook in 2019 (N=353 in Finnish; N=356 in Italian). The theoretical background of the study draws from social representation theory. The analysis shows that the contents and functions of inspirational memes addressing happiness are similar in the Finnish and Italian contexts. Five common themes were identified: “the self”, “the others”, “the life goal”, “the here & now”, and “the pointless search”. Furthermore, the social representation of happiness within the material is organized around a fundamental dichotomy: on the one hand, happiness can be built, and detailed advice is dispensed on how this can be achieved; on the other hand, building happiness is represented as an unattainable goal, and supporting this view is the idea that happiness is found in the moment. The dichotomy implies a social representation that emphasizes internal factors of the individual and plays down the role of external circumstances in achieving happiness.

Author Biographies

Jennifer De Paola, University of Helsinki

Faculty of Social Sciences, discipline of social psychology, doctoral candidate

Eemeli Hakoköngäs, University of Eastern Finland, Finland

Faculty of Social Sciences, Lecturer in social psychology

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