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I am trying to understand what the difference between Sehnsucht and Weltschmerz.

I have been going through a few resources, any my understanding of the words is the following:

Weltschmerz (often translated as world-weariness or causeless sadness, with the literal translation world-hurt or world-pain) is defined as “the kind of feeling experienced by someone who believes that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind” on Wikipedia. My understanding is that the word denotes a feeling of disgust towards the world and its shortcomings.

Sehnsucht, meanwhile seems to be a feeling of constant searching for an unknown goal, or possibly for a meaning or purpose of one’s life. From Wikipedia: “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”.

So, my understanding is that the main differences are:

  • Sehnsucht is a feeling of longing, while Weltschmerz is a feeling of disgust.
  • Sehnsucht seems to be self-centring while Weltschmerz seems to be world-centring.
  • Sehnsucht seems to be a very “active”, ardent feeling, while Weltschmerz seems to be a depression-like, passive state.

I would like to know a native speaker’s take on this.

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    As a native German speaker, the only occasions where I have ever encountered the word Weltschmerz were lists of German loanwords used in English. – O. R. Mapper Oct 30 '16 at 15:08
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Sehnsucht is actually used commonly to express that you really want something or are longing for something:

Ich habe Sehnsucht nach Schokolade!
Ich brauche dringend Urlaub, ich habe Sehnsucht nach dem Meer.
Wann kommst Du? Ich habe Sehnsucht nach Dir!

Weltschmerz is not very common in everyday language and as far as I understand it, it is very different from Sehnsucht in that Sehnsucht expresses a strong desire/longing and Weltschmerz expresses a sadness that is created by the realization that there is a general gap between what you think the ideal world should be like and the fact that the real world isn't like that at all.

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Sehnsucht is a very common word, used to express longing for a loved one.

Er hatte Sehnsucht nach ihr.

He longed for her.

Sie hatte Sehnsucht nach Liebe.

She longed for love.

It can also be used as an adverb.

Sehnsüchtig erwartete sie seinen Anruf.

She yearingly waited for his call.

It can also be used do describe an unhealthy fixation on someone or something.

Die Gamer warten schon sehnsüchtig auf die Fortsetzung.

Gamers are wistfully waiting for the sequel.


Weltschmerz in contrary is a very uncommon word almost only used in literary context. It describes the feeling of being baffled and agonized by shattered ideals, feeling the mismatch between those ideals and the stupid reality.

I can't come up with an example sentence which wouldn't be artificial. When you have the Weltschmerz, you don't talk about it. It's embarrassing to admit your ideals are gone.

EDIT: Maybe in some fake literary context, in a fake Peter-Scholl-Latour style:

Die Melancholie der Greise von Damaskus, eben noch aufgerüttelt von den Boten der neuen Zeit, war einem finalen Weltschmerz gewichen.

The melancholia of the old men of Damaskus, just/barely roused by the envoys of the new ages, yielded to a final Weltschmerz.

See, you need a lot of orotundity to justify using Weltschmerz.

  • That's really interesting, thanks. So then is the difference between "vermisse" and "Sehnsucht" similar to the one between "missing" and "longing"? – Mihai Bujanca Oct 30 '16 at 14:55
  • Is Sehnsucht not also used to describe something less identifiable than a person? This is again from wikipedia: <<C.S. Lewis described Sehnsucht as the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what.">> Or is it used in that sense mostly in literature – Mihai Bujanca Oct 30 '16 at 15:01
  • Yes, vermissen is a technical term. You can vermissen both your car and your car keys. You could have Sehnsucht for your car of course (unhealthy fixation) but not for the car keys. That would be a bit too odd. – Janka Oct 30 '16 at 15:15
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    Sehnsucht as a concept is hardly used. You have to explain what you are longing for. If you don't explain it, people would ask questions to find out what you are longing for. – Janka Oct 30 '16 at 15:18
  • @BujancaMihai The general feeling of missing something without knowing exactly what it is would be described as exactly that: Ich habe das Gefühl von Sehnsucht, ich weiß nur nicht genau, nach was or Ich habe das Gefühl, mir fehlt was [in the sense of missing something, not in the sense of being ill], aber ich weiß nicht, was. There is not really an everyday term for that. – Thorsten Dittmar Oct 30 '16 at 15:51
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"Sehnucht" is a longing or "seeking" (Sucht) about something that may or may not exist.

"Weltschmerz" literally means "world pain" and reflects a discomfort with the "world" (or part of it) that actually exists.

I aggre with your "take" that "Sehnsucht seems to be self-centring while Weltschmerz seems to be world-centring. Sehnsucht seems to be a very "active", ardent feeling, while Weltschmerz seems to be a depression-like, passive state."

I'm not a native speaker, but I have used these (and similar) words a lot.

  • Am I right in saying that both words refer to feelings about abstract things? Sehnsucht for obvious reasons, and Weltschmerz because one can be uncomfortable with the state of the world without being able to identify what exactly bothers them. – Mihai Bujanca Oct 30 '16 at 14:25
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    @BujancaMihai: I believe so, yes. – Tom Au Oct 30 '16 at 14:29
  • Sucht more closely relates to Seuche, sickness, according to scholars [Whom?]. The previously mentioned fact, that sehnen has no known etymology, makes the comparison to "saudade" (Portuguese) pretty appealing. Both words, sehn-" and *sucht" may have shifted through popular etymology to be close to "sehen" and "suchen" respectively. Also compare *sich nach etwas verzehren "to be consumed by longing for", zerren "to stretch, tear" and Sehne "sinew". – vectory Mar 31 at 19:55
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As I understand it, and I have heard it only a couple of times, perhaps just once in German, that "Weltschmerz" is blaming everyone and everything for personal problems. That's the connotation it has now. If somebody is said to lament Weltschmerz, then it actually means that they are missing the forest for the trees.

"Sehnsucht" on the other hand is a strong desire for something that one knows is unattainable at the moment.

So they may appear together, if either Weltschmerz begets desire for a solution for actual problems (perhaps the Weltschmerz itself), or vice-versa, if Sehnsucht begets Weltschmerz because of an uncomfortable certainty, but they are orthogonal, striving into different directions.

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