Paul B. Baltes (1939–2006)


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Baltes, P. B. (2008). Positionspapier: Entwurf einer Lebensspannen-Psychologie der Sehnsucht. Utopie eines vollkommenen und perfekten Lebens [A lifespan psychological approach to the study of Sehnsucht (life longings). Utopia of a perfect and complete life]. Psychologische Rundschau, 59, 77–86.


Obwohl das Konzept der Sehnsucht in der Kunst und den Geisteswissenschaften eine große Rolle spielt, ist es in der Psychologie bisher kaum behandelt worden. Dieser Beitrag stellt einen Entwurf für eine lebensspannen-psychologische Konzeptualisierung des Phänomens Sehnsucht dar. Es wird vorgeschlagen, Sehnsucht durch sechs zusammenhängende Merkmale zu charakterisieren: (1) Unerreichbarkeit einer persönlichen Utopie idealer Entwicklung, (2) Gefühl der Unvollkommenheit und Unfertigkeit des Lebens, (3) Dreizeitigkeitsfokus (auf Vergangenheit, Gegenwart, Zukunft), (4) ambivalente (bittersüße) Emotionen, (5) reflexive und evaluative Prozesse und (6) Symbolhaftigkeit. Diese theoretischen Annahmen können empirisch anhand einer ersten Studie von Scheibe, Freund und Baltes (2007) gestützt werden.


The concept of the perfect life plays an important role in the arts and humanities, but has scarcely received attention as a psychological phenomenon. I propose a lifespan developmental conceptualization of Sehnsucht; of striving for a personal utopia of the perfect life., as expressed in the phenomenon of life longings (better captured in the German word Sehnsucht). It is suggested to characterize life longings with a family of six core characteristics: (1) utopian conceptions of ideal development; (2) sense of incompleteness and imperfection of life; (3) conjoint time focus on the past, present, and future; (4) ambivalent (bitter-sweet) emotions; (5) reflection and evaluation of one’s life; and (6) symbolic richness. These theoretical assumptions are supported by a first empirical study by Scheibe, Freund, and Baltes (2007).

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, 5, 121–133.

Sehnsucht (life longings) refers to thoughts and feelings about missing something in life that would make it complete or perfect. Using a life-span-theoretical approach, we posit that life longings have 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. This article presents a life-span-theoretical conceptualization of Sehnsucht recently introduced by Paul B. Baltes and colleagues (Baltes, in press; Scheibe, Freund, & Baltes, 2008) and reviews first empirical research conducted in this framework. The review addresses lay conceptions of Sehnsucht and the construct's distinction from already existing, well-articulated constructs (goals, regrets, ideal self), the functions of life longings for development, and age-related differences across adulthood.

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.

The topic of an optimal or utopian life has received much attention across the humanities and the arts but not in psychology. The German concept of Sehnsucht captures individual and collective thoughts and feelings about one's optimal or utopian life. Sehnsucht (life longings; LLs) is defined as an intense desire for alternative states and realizations of life. Presenting a first effort at capturing this phenomenon, the authors conceptualize LLs as composed of 6 interrelated 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. Self-report data from 299 adults (19-81 years) support the postulated structure and support predictions regarding the functional role of Sehnsucht. Having LLs was evaluated as providing direction to development and helping to manage life's incompleteness. At the same time, the frequent and intense experience of LLs was associated with lower well-being. When LLs were perceived as controllable, however, this negative association disappeared.

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Last updated 05/2008

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