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date: 18 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

In search for concepts that help understand how individuals strive for growth and perfection within the boundaries and constraints of human lives, we describe theory and research on the concepts of wisdom, or expert knowledge about human nature and the life course, and Sehnsucht (life longings), the recurring and strong desire for ideal (utopian), alternative states and expressions of life. Both represent relatively new concepts on the agenda of lifespan research, originating from an interest in identifying major topics of public and humanist discourse about the potentials and constraints of life-span development and finding ways to measure them with the methods of normative psychological science. Despite their complexity and multiple meanings, progress has been made in the theory-driven operationalization of wisdom and life longings, allowing new insights into their ontogenesis and role for positive development. Emerging research shows that wisdom and life longings do not directly promote a hedonic life orientation or happiness: neither the insight that life is incomplete (wisdom) nor the experience of this incompleteness (life longings) is compatible with feelings of unequivocal joy and pleasure. Yet, there is emerging evidence that they contribute to other aspects of positive development, emphasizing personal growth, meaning, and the aligning of one's own and other's well-being. We suggest that future research should focus on the links of wisdom and life longings with multiple developmental outcomes and the possible interplay of both concepts in promoting positive development.

Keywords: functionality, life longings, ontogenesis, Sehnsucht, wisdom

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