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Sehnsucht by Oskar Zwintscher, c.1900 Sehnsucht (German pronunciation: [ˈzeːnˌzʊxt]) is a German noun translated as "longing", "pining", "yearning", or "craving",[1]. Some psychologists use the word sehnsucht to represent thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences.[2]

In psychology

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Sehnsucht, sculpture by Susanne Kraißer

Psychologists have worked to capture the essence of Sehnsucht by identifying its six core characteristics: “(a) utopian conceptions of ideal development; (b) sense of incompleteness and imperfection of life; (c) conjoint time focus on the past, present, and future; (d) ambivalent (bittersweet) emotions; (e) reflection and evaluation of one's life; and (f) symbolic richness.”[3]

In a cross-cultural study conducted to determine whether the German concept of Sehnsucht could be generalized to the United States, four samples of American and German participants “rated their 2 most important life longings and completed measures of subjective well-being and health.”[4] German and American participants did not differ in their ability to identify life longings or the intensity of their Sehnsucht. However, German participants associated it more with unattainable, utopian states while Americans reported the concept as not as important to everyday life.

Some researchers posit that Sehnsucht has a developmental function that involves life management. By imagining overarching and possibly unachievable goals, individuals may be able to create direction in their life by developing more tangible goals, or “stepping stones” that will aid them on their path toward their ideal self. "[Sehnsucht has] important developmental functions, including giving directionality for life planning and helping to cope with loss and important, yet unattainable wishes by pursuing them in one's imagination."[5] It can also operate as a self-regulatory mechanism.

However, in a study that attempted to discover whether Sehnsucht played an active role in one’s ability to influence their own development, psychologists asked 81 participants to report “their most important personal goals and life longings, and [evaluate] these with respect to their cognitive, emotional, and action-related characteristics.”[6] Results showed that goals were perceived as more closely linked to everyday actions, and as such more controllable. Sehnsucht, on the other hand, was reported as more related to the past and future, and therefore more emotionally and developmentally ambiguous.

Also, in a study conducted in 2009, 168 middle-aged childless women were asked to rate their wish for children according to intensity and attainability. If the women rated their wish as intense and long-standing, their wish was considered a life-longing. If they rated their wish as intense and attainable, it was simply a goal. “The pursuit of the wish for children as a life longing was positively related to well-being only when participants had high control over the experience of this life longing and when other self-regulation strategies (goal adjustment) failed.”[7]

In popular culture

"Sehnsucht" is a poem by Friedrich Schiller that inspired composers like Franz Schubert and Siegfried Wagner. Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" was set to music by multiple composers.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "LEO Results for "sehnsucht"".
  2. ^ Kotter-Grühn, D.; Wiest, M.; Zurek, P.; Scheibe, S. (2009). "What is it we are longing for? Psychological and demographic factors influencing the contents of Sehnsucht (life longings)". Journal of Research in Personality. 43: 428–437. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.01.012.
  3. ^ Scheibe, S.; Freund, A. M.; Baltes, P. B. (2007). "Toward a developmental psychology of Sehnsucht (life longings): The optimal (utopian) life". Developmental Psychology. 43: 778–795. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.43.3.778. PMID 17484587.
  4. ^ Scheibe, S.; Blanchard-Fields, F.; Wiest, M.; Freund, A. M. (2011). "Is longing only for Germans? A cross-cultural comparison of sehnsucht in Germany and the United States". Developmental Psychology. 47: 603–618. doi:10.1037/a0021807. PMID 21219068.
  5. ^ Scheibe, S.; Freund, A. M. (2008). "Approaching Sehnsucht (life longings) from a life-span perspective: The role of personal utopias in development". Research In Human Development: 121–133.
  6. ^ Mayser, S.; Scheibe, S.; Riediger, M. (2008). "(Un)reachable? An empirical differentiation of goals and life longings". European Psychologist. 13: 126–140. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.13.2.126.
  7. ^ Kotter-Grühn, D.; Scheibe, S.; Blanchard-Fields, F.; Baltes, P. B. (2009). "Developmental emergence and functionality of Sehnsucht (life longings): The sample case of involuntary childlessness in middle-aged women". Psychology And Aging. 24: 634–644. doi:10.1037/a0016359.
  8. ^ "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" at LiederNet Archive