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First World Congress on Positive Psychology

The World Congress on Positive Psychology will occur in June.

How many positive psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

I don't know the answer, but perhaps I will by the end of June, after the largest positive psychology conference ever held has taken place in Philadelphia, from June 18-21, 2009. As of this writing, the First World Congress on Positive Psychology has more than 1000 people registered, and the number is expected to grow to 1,500 by the time of the Congress.

I have served as the program chair for this conference. I have a vested interest in its success and an insider's view of how it was put together.

Like anything worthwhile, this conference took a lot of work by a lot of people over a long period of time. It began with a glint in the eye of Ray Fowler, who likes to build things - specifically organizations. Under Ray's guidance, the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) was created. It would be a better story if I could say that the plan for IPPA was sketched on the back of a napkin, but this is the 21st century, and IPPA was initially unveiled in a PowerPoint presentation.

Once IPPA took form, the idea for a World Congress followed as a next step, although not an automatic one. People needed to step up and help, and they did. Ed Diener agreed to be the President of IPPA, and Ilona Boniwell agreed to be the Vice President. With no more than my usual whining, I agreed to be the Program Chair. James Pawelski and Debbie Swick have done most of the heavy lifting for IPPA and the World Congress. And there are too many other people involved to name, but I feel grateful for all that they have done.

As mentioned, the Congress will be by far the largest gathering of positive psychologists ever held. IPPA and the Congress have an explicitly international flavor, and those who will deliver keynote addresses, participate in symposia, lead workshops, and present posters are from all corners of the globe. Above all, the Congress will stress the science - basic and applied - that underlies positive psychology.

My hope is that this will be a different kind of conference, not in terms of its scheduled activities as much as in terms of what goes on before, after, and between these activities. Conference participants often segregate themselves into cliques based on the coolness their nametags convey. I had my fill of that in junior high school.

So, I hope that all participants greet one another, familiar and unfamiliar, before scanning a nametag. If we can't be positive to one another, making all feel welcome and engaged, then how dare we study positive psychology?

I hope to see you there. Information about IPPA and the Congress can be found at

How many positive psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? If the lights go out at the Congress, perhaps we will have an empirical answer to this age-old question. Then again, we may just sit there in the dark and tell each other to look on the bright side - if we can only figure out which side of Sheraton Philadelphia City Center it happens to be.

Christopher Peterson
University of Michigan
IPPA World Congress Program Chair