Other People Matter
Colleagues and friends pay tribute to Christopher Peterson.
Posted Oct 12, 2012
Colleagues, friends, and PT bloggers share their memories and reflections of Christopher Peterson. Have a fond recollection or tribute of your own to share? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
To contribute to a scholarship in Chris' honor, visit mappalum.org/Donation and be sure to enter "Christopher Peterson" in the "in Honor of" section.
Nansook Park, Ph.D.:
Chris was a unusual combination of intelligence, warmth, integrity and genuineness. He lived a life worth living.
Something that I always found so special about him, considering his stature, was that he had a special talent for seeing good things in everyone and everything. I was always amazed by it. He was incapable of getting angry—instead he would become subdued, but never angry. He found joy in every little thing and was so grateful for even just a 'thank you.'
Chris loved people. Even at the busiest times, he always found time for others, no matter what. He always told me to "do right thing."
Chris loved writing his PT blog, The Good Life. He absolutely loved it. It made him so happy! Chris always checked how many readers stopped by—he felt really connected with all of them. I want his readers to know that they made him matter! For that I am eternally grateful.
Martin Seligman, Ph.D.:
Chris was a close friend and my closest colleague. He was an intellectual giant—we all knew this—but in the waterfall of memorials over the last few days, so many of us have seen how beloved he was and by so many people.
He not only founded and studied and researched and taught Positive Psychology, he lived it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D.:
Yesterday, Jeanne Nakamura and I were teaching our introductory graduate course in Positive Psychology. The first reading—assigned weeks ago—was to be Chapter 5 from Chris Peterson's A Primer in Positive Psychology, “Positive Thinking".
We had just learned, hours before, of Chris' passing. It was difficult at first to discuss with the class positive thinking, knowing that the writer of the text had just left us. The 40 students, some of whom had met him at the IPPA congress, were stunned; one who took classes with him as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan gave an eloquent and moving eulogy.
By the end of the class, the students—who had already felt a great deal of empathy and admiration for Chris just by reading the first five chapters of his book—were aware of their responsibility to follow in the footsteps of this gentle giant of psychology. To an extent, the knowledge that his example is going to influence future generations makes the loss less painful; but it is a great loss, and we will feel it to the end of our days.
To add to an already incredible legacy of research, let me pass on a memory from my last night with Chris. This is one he would have wanted me to share:
He was talking about his strengths work (as he is arguably the leading scientist for studying character strengths and virtues), upset that everyone attributes this work to him when the real intellectual force happens to be his partner, Nansook Park. Feeling weird that all of their scientific articles are attributed primarily to him (the elder, renowned entity), he was asking for advice on how to convey this “error” to the world. I suggested that he pull his name from the next “big” paper in the pipeline; this way she would have a solo authored paper and her fixture as the strengths lady would be secured. He loved the idea and we spent some time talking about which paper it should be.
This is worth meditating on. We spent 15 minutes designing a plan to remove Chris’ name from research he has been slaving over in order to rectify the imbalance of attention he was getting in his collaboration with Nansook. How many scientists at his level (top 100 cited in the world) do this?
Its this sense of generativity that we should uphold in his honor.
I have many reasons to be grateful to Chris.He gave me my first big break to write the curiosity chapter (as an overly confident student) for the esteemed Character Strengths and Virtues handbook. We shook on it and drank a shot to seal the deal.
Chris believed that talks should be fun for the crowd and that's how you make science matter to people you don’t get to talk with in one-on-one conversation. Another message to uphold in his honor.
You don’t replace people like Chris at the helm of a field such as this, you just hope that other people come along with similar strengths…with the knowledge that it's rare and we might be waiting a long, long time. Imagine if the majority of the power players in psychology had a strength profile like Chris? That is a vision I will smile at and savor for the rest of today. And tomorrow, I will pointedly try to adopt several of the things I cherish about him.
Christopher Peterson's work on character has truly inspired a whole new generation of intelligence researchers, including myself, to think about the causes of success very differently than traditional theories. I had the good fortune to meet him a few short months ago at the American Psychological Association conference. I will not forget that evening, nor his research.
Through Chris's work as a teacher, as a researcher, and as a human being, he has touched so many people. The outpouring of testimonials on the "FRIENDS-OF-PP" listserv was powerful; even people who had only met him once or twice felt his loss. I believe that without Chris, positive psychology would have looked very, very different; it may never have existed in the first place. The positive psychology community is seeking every way it can to honor his legacy.
An innovative theorist, brilliant raconteur, and faithful friend, Chris was someone we will long remember and miss. Psychology is a better field thanks to his many wonderful and wise contributions.