There are a lot of things people desire to have in life – a fulfilling job, a loving relationship, beautiful things, and so on. These desires are generally useful, because they push us towards the things in life that are good or pleasant for us. The downside is that it is not always possible for someone to get all the things they want, leaving them longing. People long for things they desire, but cannot have – at least not at this moment1. The ‘things’ that people long for are diverse: these can be objects (e.g., an expensive car), people2 (e.g., being romantically involved with someone who is not interested in you; or being friends with a celebrity), situations (e.g., longing for peace in wartime; longing to go to the finals of the world cup), or even times (e.g., longing for the past – also known as nostalgia).
When people desire something, they want to be close to it and interact with it. Since that is not possible with an object of longing, people instead think or fantasize about it. These mental activities can be supported with physical activities. For instance, someone who longs to have a holiday home may collect inspiring pictures, look online for information, or go to a holiday exhibition.
Because the object of longing is something positive, the emotion does not have to be entirely negative. People who occasionally yearn for something that is out of reach, may not experience it as a very negative emotion. However, if the desired thing is of crucial importance for their happiness and there seems virtually no chance that they will ever attain it, the experience will likely be very negative. Thus, important factors in the emotion are how strong the desire for the object is, and how much it is (or seems) out of reach. An additional factor is the frequency of encountering the object of desire. For instance, if a person has an intense, but unanswered crush on someone, it is much harder to get over this if they see the person every day.
In the comic, Murphy is not having the best time at work. He keeps a calendar that marks how many days he has left until his next holiday. Unfortunately for him, that still seems far off.