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date: 12 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

In search of concepts that help us 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 concepts on the agenda of life span research that originate 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 insights into their life span development and role for positive development. Existing 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 (Sehnsucht) is compatible with feelings of unequivocal joy and pleasure. Yet there is evidence that they can contribute to other aspects of positive development, emphasizing personal growth and maturity, meaning, and the aligning of one’s own and others’ well-being.

Keywords: wisdom, life longings, Sehnsucht, life span development, functionality

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