On the afternoon of October 9, 2012 Marty Seligman walked in my office and told me that Chris Peterson had died that morning. In shock, I immediately went for a walk to give free reign to my emotions and to reflect on the interactions I had had with Chris over the dozen years since we had met. From the very beginning and then consistently, Chris would ask me how things were going, taking the time to listen carefully and patiently and then give me excellent advice. As many have observed since his death, Chris’s encapsulation of positive psychology in the phrase "other people matter" was not just an empirical result for him; it was the axis around which he lived his life.
Taking into account what I have heard Chris say over the years, I think he meant a number of things by this phrase, including three I will mention here. First, Chris meant generally that "people matter." In the end, research is truly important, not as a way to gain prestige or to further one’s career, but because it is a means to help folks live better. Chris loved to find less formal ways of helping people, as well. One day when he was at the University of Pennsylvania for some meetings, he made the rounds of the Positive Psychology Center offices, catching up with those of us who worked there. He explained to me that he had begun thinking of what he was doing as "positive gossip." He would spread positive rumors in the offices up and down the hallway so we would all know the good things our colleagues thought of us. I’m not sure he ever tested this activity formally as a positive intervention, but of its effectiveness I have no doubt.
Second, Chris meant that "all people matter." Not just the people at the top, the people in the spotlight, or the popular people. He was fond of talking about the "little" people in an organization or a society and how important they are. Indeed, one of the things that has struck me about the testimonials that have been shared after his death is that they have come from people at all levels: people with lots of power and people with little power; people with stellar careers, and students who have not yet begun their careers; people who were in a position to be helpful to Chris, and people who were not.
Third, Chris meant that "all peoples matter." Especially in his later years, Chris did quite a bit of traveling, and he was struck by the wonderful differences among nations and cultures. Ever vigilant that positive psychology not just be a way of enshrining the values of a certain group, Chris was a strong promoter of cross-cultural research. In his personal interactions with people of cultures other than his own, he was careful to learn about their traditions and folkways so he could meet them where they were most comfortable.
In recognition of the extraordinary colleague, friend, and mentor Chris was to so many of us, and in light of his standing as one of the giants in contemporary psychology, as well as one of the core founders of the field of positive psychology and of the International Positive Psychology Association, we have decided to dedicate this newsletter to Chris’s memory. In this issue, you will find personal reflections from a number of colleagues who served with Chris on the Board of the International Positive Psychology Association, an interview with Chris from a previous issue of this newsletter, an essay from one of Chris's former students about his impact as a teacher, and two articles on character strengths, an area of research that owes its existence to Chris. You will also find information about several memorials honoring Chris, including the announcement of a new IPPA award – the Christopher Peterson Gold Medal.
We offer this newsletter in gratitude for Christopher Peterson, an exemplary positive psychologist and an extraordinary human being.