top of page

The Search for Happiness: Gottfried Keller's Psychology of Flourishing

Dissertation, Stanford University, 2017

This project outlines the educational psychology of the 19th century Swiss realist novelist Gottfried Keller and demonstrates its pertinence to contemporary research. As a realist author, Keller stands at a crossroads -- a historical, cultural, and aesthetic turning point between the Enlightenment tradition and the emergence of psychology as a field. Thus, he allows us to create a multidisciplinary understanding of human flourishing. Keller reinvents self-cultivation as a psycho-social phenomenon, prefiguring frameworks that we now use to understand happiness and well-being. These include adolescent development (Ch 1), resilience (Ch 2), attachment (Ch 3), and trauma (Ch 4).

Keller's collection of stories, The People of Seldwyla, explore the precarity of searching for happiness in modern society, and his stories of flourishing remain attuned to contemporary concerns. Self-directed learning, finding purpose, and equality of opportunity remain at the forefront of our struggle as educators. However, instead of mourning the loss of authenticity we typically associate with modernity, Keller defends the possibility of living meaningfully in an industrialized society. This project posits story-telling and aesthetic creativity as crucial mechanisms of self-cultivation, reminding us of the unique role that literature and art play in well-being.

The Democratization of Flourishing (Bildung):
Gottfried Keller and the long 19th century of Developmental Psychology

  1. The Emergence of Biological Growth in the Age of Goethe

  2. Organic Growth in Idealist Narratives of Bildung

  3. Keller’s Realist Revision of Idealism: A Search for Happiness

  4. Pankraz, der Schmoller (Pankraz, the Complainer):
    Accessible Enlightenment

  5. Frau Amrain und ihr Jüngster (Ms. Amrain and her Youngest Son):
    Creativity in the Formation of Self

  6. Die Romantik und die Gegenwart: Political Implications of Keller’s Project

  7. Conclusion: A Place for Narrative?

"No more novels!" (Keine Romane mehr!):
The Psychology of Resilience in Historical Context

  1. Locus of Control in Educational Psychology

  2. The German Novella: “Die unendliche Kraft einer Schicksalsstunde”

  3. Gottfried Keller’s Experiments:  “Not for the faint-hearted”

  4. Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe (A Village Romeo and Juliet):
    Contingent Destiny and the Scaffold of Human Experience

  5. Kleider machen Leute (Clothes Make the Man): Locus of Control as a Mindset

  6. Conclusion: A Reflection on Historical Context

Meaning-Making in Modernity:

Love and Spirituality in The Lost Laughter (Das verlorne Lachen)

  1. Structures of Spirituality: The Return to Origins

  2. Metaphysical Marriage in Idealism and Realism

  3. Love and Attachment: The Psychological Mechanisms of Spirituality

  4. Meaning-Making: Catharsis, Learning, and Language

  5. Conclusion: Partnership in Seldwyla

Life out of Death (Das Leben aus dem Tode):

Overcoming Trauma in the Search for a Future

  1. Child Abuse and the Theft of Self

  2. “A Profound Longing”: Dietegen’s Post-traumatic Stress

  3. Coping with Loss: Küngolt’s Trauma

  4. Grief and Rebirth: The Possibilities of Authentic Renewal


Published as an article in Monatshefte.

bottom of page