Do you ever feel homesick for heaven

Psychology professor Alexandra Freund is one of the few longing researchers in Germany. Longings indicate what is really important in life, she says in an interview with They also serve as a reflection. Can you define "longing"?

Prof. Alexandra Freund (Professor of Psychology at the University of Zurich): Longing is that bittersweet feeling, the urgent desire to have a different and more perfect life. It is about something that is missing in present life. What one no longer has, maybe lost, maybe never had, maybe never will and can only be achieved with great difficulty. One has very little hope of ever satisfying this desired feeling. Longing is a complicated and complex feeling. Is it also difficult to research from a psychological point of view?

Friend: This is very difficult to research, because it is not just a feeling, but something that we call a cognitive phenomenon in psychology: It is about conceptual constructions, some of which can themselves be very complex. Of something that you don't have, but which is also not a goal. It is not that you think that if you take step A, you will arrive at goal B. Rather, it is more difficult and complex in that it is a utopia of this perfect life.

It is often realized that what we long for, if it were obtained, would never be as wonderful as it is in our idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlonging. Longings are always symbols. One longs for perfect love, which is symbolized, for example, by George Clooney. But there is no such thing as perfect love with George Clooney either. Even in our utopia of what symbolizes perfect love for us, we are often aware that it is actually not that perfect. And that plays into the phenomenon that there is this slight dimension of inaccessibility. This is extremely complex and therefore little researched. What do most people's longings revolve around? Is it more about the everyday, the banal - or the really big?

Friend: There are both the big, the small and the banal. There is calm that can be banal and the desire to be left alone, especially by those who are very busy. But it can also be something bigger, for example a form of equilibrium and balance in life that one lacks. Even if it is the longing for a car, which I would also call quite banal, then the car stands as a symbol for different things. That can symbolize freedom, masculinity and sportiness.

Longing symbols can stand for different things. Even mundane things are great things. A great many people in our studies state that they long for things that are related to family and relationships. At a certain age there is also a longing for children. But there are also self-centered longings when you want to be a different, calmer, kind-hearted person. Less often there are also longings that relate to utopias of society. Most longings are more directed towards one's own life and oneself. If desires are utopias and you know that they are unattainable, what use do they have from a psychological point of view?

Friend: Longings have different functions. An important one of these is that they indicate what is really important in life. They help to be able to formulate much more concrete goals and the steps up to that point. It's about where to go. Longings serve as important signposts. This is not only intended for the future, but also in reflection. You think about how the path has been so far and whether I have taken the right path so far, and whether that corresponds to my longings at all.

You realize that you are constantly bypassing your longings and are completely different from where your own longings take you. It can help to evaluate the past and see if it would be good to change direction. One can ask the question why one actually longs for the perfect love and what is missing in the partnership. This reflection on both the future and the past is very important. Desires give life a certain meaning.

The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.