Home All You Mattered, Chris

You Mattered, Chris

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton October 10, 2012

Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton are the senior editors of PositivePsychologyNews.com. Together they have edited two books in the Positive Psychology News series: Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves and Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life's Gifts. Kathryn co-edited the third book in the series, Character Strengths Matter, with Shannon Polly. Their co-authored articles are here.

Senia Maymin, MAPP '06, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full Bio. Her solo articles are here and her articles with Margaret Greenberg are here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06 also co-authored Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Blog. Full bio. Her solo articles are here.

Christopher Peterson died yesterday.

We don’t know the details. We’ve just been touched by the shock wave going through a world-wide community that formed around his generous and productive life.

Just five days ago, Chris wrote an article in his Positive Psychology Today blog, The Good Life, about the ways he might use the word “awesome.” Along with the 1000 statues of the Buddha at the Sanjūsangen-dō temple in Japan, all looking alike from a distance but different up close, his examples included the Vietnam Memorial and the Virginia Tech Hokie Stones memorial for the people who died in the 2007 shooting. He concludes the article this way:

“The sort of awe I am describing is a bit different but incredibly important. It is awe about people collectively, including us. We are all the same, and each of us is unique, certainly in death but also in life. May we all stop and notice.” Awesome: E Pluribus Unum by Dr. Christopher Peterson

Chris was our teacher during the first MAPP program, teaching us how to read and write about research in the first semester and exploring character strengths and virtues in the second semester. Every slide deck had at least one joke and at least one picture of a baby in it.

We explored questions such as “What you can and cannot measure” and “What would we add as the 25th character strength?” He certainly didn’t believe that the existing 24 had been handed down carved in stone. For his top 5 character strength, people who knew Chris might pick Love, Curiosity, Humor, Humility, and … but it may be difficult to narrow in on the fifth since so many applied.

Chris reminded us that asking interesting questions is what matters in good research and that writing is a series of choices about how to tell a story and the writer should have a goal and an audience in mind. He also told us, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” At the same time, he had the ability to distill complex research findings into usable advice. He asked his students to think of the so-what factor: “So what? Why does it matter that this research exists? How does it make a difference?” Many students were keen to speak and work with Chris and benefited from his personal attention.

In the comments, please add any Chris stories that you are moved to tell. We’ll start with our two stories.
Also, we will keep adding photos of Chris here, so please email us with the image attached: admin@PositivePsychologyNews.com

Chris, we are thinking about you …


Here are just some articles on PPND that reference Chris directly (BTW, there are over 100 references for each of the below two):

Books by Christopher Peterson. The new book, Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology, is scheduled to be published in December 2012.

Baby feet courtesy of Pawel Loj
The feature image and the first three pictures of Dr. Christopher Peterson courtesy of Sulynn Choong

Chris with Gloria Park, Sulynn Choong. Nansook Park, and David Pollay

Chris wearing Buckeyes brought by Amanda Hoffman — a good sport after Ohio State won

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Caroline Adams Miller October 10, 2012 - 2:39 pm

I love the pictures here and the memories they elicit. I also remember Chris telling us that having a twin brother had been part of how he learned that “other people mattered” because he knew from a young age how important he was, and vice versa, to his brother. It was a memorable insight. But I’ll forever remember Chris balancing a wine glass on his stomach in my kitchen after the 2005 Gallup Well-Being Conference, reveling in the fun around him and insisting that the party go on as long as possible because life was enhanced by these types of moments. He was the last to leave that night, but he’s the first to leave the Positive Psychology party I’ve been privileged to attend for the last seven years. He is already missed.

Kathryn Britton October 10, 2012 - 2:51 pm

On the first page of my notebook for MAPP, I have the words, “Other people matter,” written in the margin. These three words are the still point of the turning world. Chris spoke to us about doing secret good deeds. The last time I saw him, he was concerned about finding ways to keep from standing in someone else’s light.

Chris has had an interest in content analysis of writings by Medal of Honor winners. Years ago, I asked him to look at something written by my father — a man who died so young that I never got to know him. I’d like to take the words he gave me and turn them back on him:

What shows through here very clearly is perseverance and a host of humanity strengths not exactly named in the VIA but captured by generativity and breadth of moral circle.

One evening, a group of us, including Chris and my daughter, went to dinner in Philadelphia. The evening included a long walk to and from the restaurant. On the way out, Chris was walking with my daughter. On the way back, he said to me, “You’ve done a good job as a mother.” That memory is one of my treasures.


Louisa Jewell October 10, 2012 - 3:15 pm

One of my most memorable assignments in MAPP was when Chris asked us to discuss how the Wizard of Oz was a metaphor for the discovery and cultivation of character. He was very creative in his approaches to learning and made me think. I also remember that he made me laugh hysterically and often. He was so much fun to learn from. I loved that he folded his hands and rested them on his stomache as he spoke. I loved that he was very humble and always took the time to chat with you. I appreciated his help whenever I asked for it. I am a better person having learned from him. My favorite line from the Wizard of Oz I think is particularly relevant for Chris…

“And remember my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others.”

The outpouring of love is a testament to his good heart. Will miss you Chris.

Senia October 10, 2012 - 4:40 pm

2006. I was at a conference for the military about in-the-moment decision-making. At one point during a break, Chris walked over and asked, “Are you ok? How are you doing in this group of men?” I was fine, but that he thought to ask and make sure was touching, and something I might very well not have thought to do for a younger colleague.

2005-2012. The one thing I saw Chris do over and over is that at least five times that I know of, he told people what strengths he saw in them. He told me after an end-of-class presentation to do more teaching in my life. He told a friend whom he advised on the thesis to get more involved in research when he saw a good spark of research ability and interest. He suggested to another friend (who was doing well on uncovering some work collaborations) to push forward and uncover more (even in parts that are uncomfortable and that those might bring the greatest rewards, i.e. lean in to your strength/weakness). He saw the spark in people and encouraged them to pursue it.

But even beyond thoughtful and personal advice, Chris was just such a WARM person. So welcoming. Of ideas. Of emotions. Of debates. Of discussions.

Thank you, Chris.

Daniel Jordan October 10, 2012 - 5:56 pm

I first met Dr. Peterson this past July in Toronto at a conference on personal meaning. I knew of his important contributions to the positive psychology which made his self-effacing manner refreshing in a field where egos abound. One night over dinner, I couldn’t help but feel like Chris was a long-time friend. Dr. Peterson embodied many of the character strengths and virtues that he did so much to popularize in psychology research.

Margaret Greenberg October 10, 2012 - 6:04 pm

Dana Arakawa and I decided to collaborate on our Capstone study and enthusiastically agreed to be our advisor. He made us think. He made us laugh. He made us push forward when we doubted ourselves.

The first year Positive Psychology News Daily was up and running I wrote on the 14th of the month. Of course, when Valentine’s Day rolled around I had to write about Love. I asked Chris if there were any new trends related to Love and the Capacity to Be Love from the VIA database. Although he said there was nothing new, he said he had found that “love not surprisingly is a robust correlate of life satisfaction – perhaps the chief one.” Chris, you were loved by one and all. xoxo

Sherri October 10, 2012 - 6:11 pm

Chris was top-quality human. He was an “open source”, sharing his wisdom and opinions on everything from why he did not fly from Ann Arbor to Philly (“People were not meant to fly, and whenever it is possible to avoid doing so, I will”) to how to become a writer (“Decide what clothes feel good to you. If you write best in sweatpants, wear them everyday, because you need to write every day”.) His own writing sounded just like him talking to you–brilliantly, eloquently simple.

His comments on student papers tuned right into the strengths of the writer. On the VIA, creativity is my top strength. Chris, though, did not need a test to tell a person’s strengths. While he could have written, “Did not follow directions” on my 25th strength paper, instead he wrote, “This is by far the most creative approach to an assignment that I have ever received. It was a joy to read. A++.” Sigh.

For those of you newer to MAPP, Chris very much wanted MAPP to succeed, and he was not at all sure that it would continue after that first year. During each onsite he conducted what he called “housekeeping” to be sure that our needs as students were being met as much as possible while the program was in its infancy. He reminded us that we were the future of Positive Psychology, and that the University could not be waving a flag for us. We needed to stick together.

After classes one day, Chris gave me a guided walking tour of Philly murals and not-to-be missed city scape art that covered 25 blocks. He reminisced about being Marty’s student and marveled that they had become colleagues. On another occasion he walked Sulynn and me back down to Center City on the way to her apartment. He had dinner with Dave, John, and me at the Philly Diner. (He was Dave’s and my advisor). He was genuinely interested in our experiences and opinions. Chris told me how he had met Nansook Park at a conference, which was followed up by a letter and a bathroom scale from her. He worked to stop smoking and lost lots of weight after that.

At IPPA one year I was so excited to see Chris that I ran across the room in my high heels to hug him. “I hope everyone doesn’t want to do that,” he said. He might have been referring to the shoes, but as for the hugging part, I know lots of people wish they could hug Chris for all of the things he did for all of us.

Todd Kashdan October 10, 2012 - 6:13 pm

To add to an already incredible legacy, let me pass on one other memory from
my last night with Chris. I have a feeling this is one he would have wanted
me to share.

He was talking about his strengths work. Upset that everyone attributes this
work to him when the real intellectual force happens to be Nansook. Feeling
weird that all of their papers are attributed primarily to him, he was
asking for advice on how to convey this “error” to the world. Laura and 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?
The only one I ever met was Rick Snyder.

Its this sense of generativity that we should uphold in his honor.

I have many things to be grateful to Chris.
He gave me my first big break to write the curiosity chapter (as a grad
student) for the CSV handbook. We shook on it and drank a shot to seal the

He was one of the only positive psychology power players to have my back in
several positive psychology backroom scuffles.

Chris believed that talks should be fun for the crowd and thats 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 its rare and we might be waiting a long, long time. Imagine
if the majority of the power players in PP 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.


Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) October 10, 2012 - 7:55 pm

I wish that I had more memories of Chris. I remember sitting with him at a social dinner and he was just one of the MAPP students. He was casual, he was real, he was kind, he was amazing. Coincidentally, I have recently been re-reading his Primer in Positive Psychology, and I could hear his deep tones echo in my head as I read some of his “oh-so-Chris” witticisms and stories. I’m so sad that this voice is forever silenced. Chris – you left too soon. May we all honour you by living our lives, ever remembering that other people matter.

Nichole Ossa October 10, 2012 - 9:18 pm

I am saddened by this news. I didn’t know Chris, but was influenced by his work. His books and the VIA strengths assessment had a big influence on my decision to go into the field of therapy. Chris’s work showed me that therapy can address human flourishing and focus on developing wellness rather than reducing illness. I am sorry that I didn’t know him, but proud to have been influenced by his work. Most of all I am proud of the influence he has had on the psychology professions; he has made us all better.

Elaine O'Brien October 10, 2012 - 10:34 pm

I am sending caring and heartfelt thoughts of sympathy, similarly reflecting on the magic of Chris Peterson. I am grateful to read the wonderful stories about Chris. What a precious, generous, giant; he embodied Positive Psychology. Chris was loved by people everywhere. At the Positive Psychology conference in China, 2010, beaming people lined up to take photos and to say hello to Chris. It always brought smiles to share a “Chris Peterson connection.”

Chris was among the most shy, brilliant, generous, funny people I’ve ever met. He inspired me from day one of our MAPP class in 2008. What a treat! It gives me some comfort to know that he lived life so fully, inspired deeply with his kindness, thoughts, words, and actions, and has made iconic contributions that forever link our humanity in perpetuity via his passion for teaching and studies. His legacy will live on.

I can see Nansook and Chris presenting together; Chris always looked so happy. Chris really got it; his perspective on life was uncanny, and I can’t help to think Chris went out on John Lennon’s birthday, October 9. Like John Lennon, Chris was a brilliant man who exemplified humanity, peace and love.

The last time I hugged Chris, we were saying good bye after this year’s Center for Consciousness Studies Conference at George Mason University. Chris was at the checkout desk. We spoke of his excitement on going back to China, Michigan, his family, and about his summer plans. He asked me about my doctoral studies and said 5 words I cherish: “I am proud of you.”

I loved him for lighting the fire under me and for helping me to aim to do my best in life, ‘breathing Positive Psychology.’

May our dear Chris rest in peace, knowing other people who matter are really proud of you…and love you very much.

With respect, care and deep sympathy,

Suzy Green October 10, 2012 - 10:36 pm

This is a photo of Chris doing the Haka with my girlfriend fellow positive psychologist Gareth Wild in a pub in Melbourne, Australia after the 2nd Australian PP Conf!

Arthur Fullerton October 10, 2012 - 11:16 pm

I am in shock and in tears to learn of Chris’s death today. Chris Peterson changed my life.

In his own words, here he is:

Part I

Part II

Other People Matter,



Alan Foster October 10, 2012 - 11:26 pm

Among all the words from Chris that I savor, here are eleven:

“What’s the word in your heart – is it Yes or No?”

Justin Coulson October 10, 2012 - 11:51 pm

In the spirit of sharing, may I add my brief but inspiring and uplifting experience with Chris?

While I was struggling with my PhD research I met Chris in Melbourne at the Australian Pos Psyc Conference. Rather than being the imposing, self-important figure I had anticipated, Chris was warm and genuinely interested in me. In fact, he was so interested that he opted to attend my presentation during the breakout sessions. (That says less about my presentation than it does his natural curiosity for novel pos-psyc ideas).

To receive kind words of affirmation, encouragement, and a little gentle guidance from Chris was one of the most profound boosts to my confidence in my research that I experienced in the time I was a student. His words had a significant impact on me, and while we only corresponded once or twice since then, his words and encouragement have been a consistent reminder to me of the value of the work I was doing – particularly at times when I questioned it in myself. Generous with his time and seemingly no respecter of persons, I admire Chris Peterson and am sorry to hear of the world’s loss.

Sympathies to all who are close to him.
Justin Coulson

John Coffey October 11, 2012 - 1:15 am

I was introduced to positive psychology and Chris while pursing an MSW at the University of Michigan. Chris was among the easiest professors to approach and even worked to build connections with his students during class breaks. He offered me plenty of gentle guidance as I looked to continue my education. His natural and humble approach to each interaction always left you feeling like you mattered.

After I left Michigan, I stayed in contact with Chris, but was lucky to see him at a few recent conferences. Chris always presented things in a simple and eloquent manner. At the last IPPA world congress, I was reminded of his familiar style as he and Nansook Park described the “________ makes life worth living” project at the University of Michigan. I sat in appreciation and amazement in hearing about it and seeing the joy that it created in Chris. I wished I could have been there during the project, but was thrilled to be able to hear about it. We were able to talk for a few minutes afterwards. I saw him again this summer at APA. I briefly said hi without trying to intrude. He stopped and made sure he encouraged me and to tell me he was proud of me. Those are just a few moments where I was filled with pride and appreciation for having the chance to know Chris.

Yes, Chris, you mattered and being one of many to help carry on your legacy in positive psychology makes life worth living.

Thank you for all that you did.

Stefan Zonia October 11, 2012 - 9:16 am

I remember the first time I met Chris. I was a simple sophomore in college taking a Research Methods course. I walked in and Chris joked that I must be lost and looking for football practice. He made me laugh within 30 seconds of meeting him. Later that semester I went to his office hours to ask a question about a homework assignment…what was intended to be a 5 minute pop-in ended up being a 2 hour conversation on everything from course material to, well, football. Chris became an enormously important part of my life. He was a father figure for me when I was estranged from mine (he also subsequently helped me reconnect with my father who I now have a strong relationship with). He was a mentor when I needed direction. He was a friend when I needed companionship. He was, and is, everything I have ever wanted to be, and I strive to ensure that through everything I do the mantra “other people matter” hits home. Words cannot do justice to how profoundly I will miss Chris Peterson. He was the best mentor/father/friend that anyone could have asked for. I loved him very much. Goodbye Chris, thank you for everything.

Christine Duvivier October 11, 2012 - 9:17 am

What I love most about Chris is his gruff, regular-guy, healthy skeptic, funny-as-h$!* comments as the outer layer of a kind, gentle, smart, loving soul. I love the day he wore a ski cap to class because he didn’t feel like washing his hair. I love that he told us! I love his realness, his willingness to be a normal human even when he was creating extraordinary new ideas. I love that he said to Marty in front of 500 people, “Thank you for introducing me to my best friend” (Nansook). I love the kind, uplifting feedback he gave to me and to each of my MAPP colleagues. Thanks for the fun, the laughter and the love, Chris!!

Michael Rollock October 11, 2012 - 9:55 am

Chris had and continues to have an enduring impact on my life and career. He was the living embodiment of the Character Strengths and Virtues handbook… not by being perfect in character, but by executing his unique strengths so consistently.. so purposefully. His approach to science, to interactions with others, and to life, truly lifted all ships.

I remember standing with him at the Chinese food truck at UPenn in 2002 as he marveled about the vendor’s capacity and decision to not only remember what dish each customer preferred, but also our names and tidbits of information about our lives. And as he marveled at this vendor, I marveled at Chris’s ability to live what Buddhists describe as Beginner’s Mind. He appeared to see so many things as if for the first time.. without judgment.. without an agenda… and this, I believe, allowed him to approach his work with a youthful intellectual energy. His was a compassionate curiosity.
I would like to imagine that whatever he might have been going through in his final moments, whether days or months, his humor and the loving people he drew to himself, helped him to transcend or make meaning of any pain that he might have been experiencing.

As I think about Chris, I am filled with gratitude even more than sorrow, compelled almost to give a standing ovation rather than hang my head, as his life was a virtuoso performance- one that will stand the test of time like any great masterpiece.

David Carter October 11, 2012 - 1:39 pm

He inspired us all to do our best
To touch the lives of all the rest
His gift to see the best in all
It mattered not how large or small

We have with us all that he brought
Visions to mind of what he taught
What we have lost is what was to be
What we have lost is how far we see

With hope his voice will last awhile
We think of him and start to smile
And cry because he was so real
He taught us all to think, but feel

With heart together we can be great
It is not hard, it is our fate
So much we have, but we will miss
The love, the touch, the awe of Chris

Kirsten Cronlund October 11, 2012 - 7:31 pm

I loved Chris for his humor, his humility, and his warmth – all of which have been mentioned over and over by people who love Chris. But my favorite memory of him probably more strongly showcases his authenticity and bravery. I was sitting in a MAPP class one time – I don’t remember if it was my MAPP class or one of the classes I was a TA for – but the theme that kept coming up over and over that weekend was “the magic of MAPP.” The discussions centered around examining what made MAPP so special – why are the students so connected, so filled with excitement, so moved by the desire to make the world a better place. These discussions had the potential of becoming narcissistic, and perhaps they would have gone that way, except for the fact that Chris’s opening line to his lecture that weekend was, “MAPP students aren’t that special.” He went on to detail many of the experiences he has had or witnessed with people in many different arenas, pointing out that one doesn’t have to be a member of MAPP to feel that connection, that excitement, and that desire to make the world a better place. He didn’t speak for a long time, but he made his point clearly. And the truly remarkable thing is that I’d be willing to wager that there was not a person in the room who felt cut down by his words or demeaned in any way. It didn’t feel so much like a dressing down as a gentle reminder to not get too full of ourselves. I love Chris for having the courage to stand in front of us all and tell us we’re not so special, and I love him for the fact that he could do so in a way that inspired us to be better people. I will miss him…

Shannon Polly October 12, 2012 - 10:45 am

MAPP grads are starting a scholarship in honor of Dr. Chris Peterson…the big hearted prof. who made every student feel like they mattered. It seems fitting that the professor whom his colleagues referred to as “Mother Theresa” would have something that lives on after him to mirror his own generosity.

You can make contributions online:


mention Chris in the “in Honor of” section.

David J. Pollay October 12, 2012 - 12:42 pm

Chris was a great guy, and his spirit lives on. He’s not only one of the most cited psychologists in the world; he’s one of the most loved.

Here’s one more example of his impact on people. When I received my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program in 2006 at the University of Pennsylvania, I introduced Chris to my parents at a reception following the graduation ceremony. For nearly ten minutes or more, Chris engaged my mom and dad. They exchanged stories, both serious and funny. My parents really appreciated the time Chris spent with them, and they enjoyed their conversation very much.

Chris was more than my capstone advisor; he was a mentor, supporter, and a great guy.

My whole family mourns the loss of Chris Peterson.

All the best, Chris.


p.s. I learned a lot from Chris, but I laughed just as hard with him. He was absolutely hilarious.

Louis Alloro October 12, 2012 - 2:00 pm

It’s beautiful to read these remembrances.
Writing my own has also been cathartic.
If you’d like, you can read it here: http://www.louisalloro.com/blog/?p=925
It’s called Keeping Chris Peterson in the Present Tense

With love,

Dan Bowling October 12, 2012 - 4:41 pm

My editor at Talent Management magazine put this blog about Chris and his legacy (and lessons for business people, the audience of the magazine) on the front page of their web site this afternoon. I hope you enjoy it. http://blog.talentmgt.com/2012/10/12/how-will-you-be-remembered/

Yukun Zhao October 12, 2012 - 10:27 pm

“Other people matter”. This is not only what Chris said, but what he practiced. Many have offered their examples. Here is mine: I invited Chris (and Nansook) to the China Positive Education conference two years ago. We had a lot of fun in the conference. After the conference, Chris and Nansook suddenly pulled a Michigan shirt from their bag and gave it to me as a present. They thanked me for everything I did for them, and for the conference. I was very happy to hear that, and also quite surprised, because I thought I was just doing my part of job. That’s typical of Chris. He made you feel you matter.

Caroline Miller October 13, 2012 - 6:29 am

Chris’ passing has kept my brain spinning for a few days, so I put together a few more thoughts on my blog about his impact to add to what I already wrote here. I keep wondering if he had any idea what we all thought of him, and I hope he died with that knowledge in his heart. http://www.carolinemiller.com/what-will-people-say-when-you-die/

Shannon Polly October 14, 2012 - 3:40 am

Here are some photos that reminded me of Chris:

Elizabeth Elizardi October 14, 2012 - 3:42 am

I wrote a blog this morning for Psychology Today and I used similar words: Chris Peterson mattered and in my humble opinion, he is the 25th Character Strength.


Acacia Parks October 14, 2012 - 3:43 am

In 2002, I visited Penn for the summer as a prospective graduate
student, and the desk where I worked was right next to the office that
Chris occupied while he was a scholar in residence. He would joke with
me and the other research assistants every day. His wry sense of humor
is legendary among those who had the chance to interact with him.

I don’t know how this came up, but I remember he somehow found out
that I once dated an ex-mime (don’t ask) and he would. Not. Let. It.
Go. Every single day, he’d find a way to say “hey, I’m not the one who
dates MIMES!” or “you should see if you can replicate that finding in
mimes. I know how you love them.” Thinking about it still makes me
chuckle. In stark contrast with the numerous moments of humor that
took place during that period, there were also many times when Chris
was serious, most of all about helping others. He was encouraging,
willing to talk through ideas, and happy to answer an eager but green
undergraduate’s questions. One of the most interesting aspects of my
undergraduate thesis was an idea that he suggested to me during that
summer. I went on to do a lot of formative work in my first year of
grad school at that desk outside his office. It was just luck that we
happened to occupy the same space, but he treated me like a respected

I didn’t see much of him after that, but I will always remember him as
the first person I met when I arrived to visit Penn as a bright-eyed,
bushy-tailed prospective student. I hate how easy it is to forget
these memories until it’s too late to share them. I hope, though, that
others will be inspired to share in kind. Chris has touched a lot of
our lives.

Debbie Swick October 14, 2012 - 3:46 am

Photos of Chris from different MAPP years and from IPPA:

1) Marty and Chris having a discussion during MAPP while everyone listens
2) The first day of MAPP: Chris and Ed Diener (September 9, 2005)
3) Ed Diener introducing Chris at IPPA
4) Chris Peterson, Marty Seligman, and George Vaillant at MAPP

Debbie Swick October 14, 2012 - 4:15 am

Here are a few more from IPPA and MAPP:

1) Chris Peterson at IPPA
2) Chris Peterson and Nansook Park at IPPA
3) Chris at IPPA with students
4) Chris, Marty, and George at MAPP with students

Senia October 14, 2012 - 4:32 am

I wish I could “like” so many stories here: Chris giving Sherri a tour of Philly’s murals, Michael describing Chris at the take-out truck, Stefan’s deep interaction with Chris, these wonderful photos, the links that people dedicated to Chris on their blogs, Christine calling his comments “funny-as-h$!*”, Alan’s brief Chris-quote, and more.

Denise Quinlan October 14, 2012 - 8:22 pm

Thanks to Kirsten Cronlund for her story of Chris being a bit sceptical about the magic of MAPP and reminding the group that other people are also connected, inspired, and giving. This was a side of Chris that I really valued – he was honest, worked hard, and stayed with feet firmly planted on the ground. His words in his last blog reminded us that although we are unique we are also all the same. This was the guy who listened to talk back radio on his drive from Michigan to Philly.

One of my favourite quotes from Chris was “it’s not a blood test”, said of the VIA after a MAPP class. He didn’t want people to over-reach in their use of the VIA and for us to appreciate its limitations.

When I heard the news of his death I realised that I had been looking forward to seeing him at IPPA next year and discussing my research on strengths with him. Like all of Chris’ students, it mattered to me that he would think I’d done a good job. Chris was a great teacher and he inspired his students to do their best work for him. Positive feedback and comments from Chris were treasured by Mapp students and I bet most of us still have our comments from him.

My sympathies to Marty, all at MAPP, Chris’ friends, colleagues and family.


PS the photo above has me shrieking with laughter at being photographed with the ‘rock stars’ of PP and Tanya Jacobsen after our first on-site. Chris was characteristically bemused by my excess of emotion – and this continued over the years.

Shannon Polly October 15, 2012 - 12:11 am

Chris “Smokey” Peterson

I loved the way Chris’ voice rumbled in the back of his throat like an oncoming train. I loved the way he would look up and to the left and say ‘um’ at the end of every phrase, as if searching for the perfect way to convey his thought. And I loved the way he would lean back against the chalkboard, rest his hands on his stomach and consider every question from a student as if it was a brilliant one.

He was a moral compass as a teacher without being judgmental. Which is quite remarkable, really.

I have two particularly fond memories of Chris.

At the end of our MAPP year, we wanted to give a meaningful gift to our instructors. So, Angie LeVan (a brilliant photographer) took a photo of each student or group of students embodying one of their VIA signature strengths so that we had all 24 strengths represented. The creativity of each student came out in the setting for the photos and a little ingenuity came out as well so that we took the photos when the teachers weren’t looking. Then Louisa Jewell put them all together in poster format and we presented the framed photos/poster at the end of our last class to each teacher.
Chris was truly touched at the gesture…and then he made a crack about how amazing it was we were able to organize ourselves. He asked for a full sized version to hang in his office at the University of Michigan. It was a proud moment to be able to thank him for something he had devoted so much of his scholarship to create.

Another memory is at the end of the IPPA First World Congress in Philly when a group of us were hanging out. Someone mentioned the little positivity ditty I wrote for my MAPP class and asked me to get up and sing it. I demurred. The thought of singing in front of some of positive psychology’s luminaries was more than a bit mortifying. Then Suzie Pileggi pulled up a video of the song and proceeded to play it. I don’t quite remember, but I think Chris laughed at the humor in it.
I’ll never forget sitting next to Chris at some point later in the evening and he leaned over to me and said, “Do you know any Smokey Robinson?”
I wasn’t sure if he was making a request or making conversation, but in that moment I felt numerous emotions. In an instant, I was relieved from my embarrassment, surprised and honored to be ‘seen’ and disappointed that I didn’t actually know any Smokey Robinson. I would have sung ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’ if Chris Peterson specifically asked me to. He spoke for a few minutes about Smokey’s songs and then said, “You really should look him up.” It wasn’t an admonition. It was more like a kind piece of advice from one music lover to another.
Like a dutiful student I promptly put, “Smokey Robinson” on my TO DO list…and then it fell to the bottom as competing priorities took over.

I looked up some Smokey Robinson recently. I wish I’d done it sooner.

Shannon Polly, MAPP ‘09

Kathy Xydis October 15, 2012 - 9:07 am

I met Chris eight years ago. He was a personal training client at a local gym. As the years passed, he became more than just a client and we became friends. He was there for me when my husband died in 2006 and my five children and I were struggling with grief and disbelief. His counsel was invaluable during the many tribulations we faced then and throughout the following years.

When my oldest son was struggling, in a car accident, and couldn’t start college his freshman year he gave him some meaningful volunteer work on one of his important research projects. That lead him to choose the field of psychology as his major. He went from a high school student that was struggling after his fathers death to a 4.0 student in college.

I also had the fortune to work for Chris at the University of Michigan for two years. He told me I was the only employee he ever managed in his career. Whenever Chris and I sat down for a meeting, the first thing he would say before we began was, “tell me how your family is doing”. He was a wonderful boss, friend, mentor and I will never forget what he did for myself and my family.

Paul Wong October 15, 2012 - 2:03 pm

Psychology has lost an intellectual giant. Positive Psychology has lost its best ambassador. I have lost a personal friend.

The outpouring of affection and admiration for Chris comes from all over the world. He has endeared himself even to those who have been critical of Positive Psychology, because of his humble spirit, gracious manner, and sincere attempt to build bridges.

Over the years, I have had numerous opportunities to interact and discuss various issues with Chris. Most recently, I had the opportunity to share with him some deeper issues about Positive Psychology, at the Meaning Conference (July 26-29, 2012).

The Chris I know is a big man with a big heart, willing to listen to those with different ideas. What really stands out is that he really practices what he preaches. To him, “other people matter” is an end in its own right, rather than a means to an end; in other words, this is a matter of basic principle and the key to the good life.

We all know that Chris was a busy man as a celebrity academic. There were always many demands on him professionally. Yet, he never said no to any of my requests, big or small. When I invited him to keynote at the most recent Meaning Conference, he readily accepted my invitation. I also asked him and other keynote speakers to send me a paper for publication; he was the first one to comply with this request. That is why, to me, he is a super guy.

Chris and I had several things in common. We were both friends of Steven F. Maier (his dissertation supervisor). We both believed that Positive Psychology has to do with bringing out what is good in people as well as healing what is broken. We were both interested in research on what makes life worth living. Finally, both of us believed that it would benefit both Positive Psychology and Humanistic Psychology if these two traditions could work together.

I will miss him a great deal, especially when I am working hard to complete my last major collaborative project on the nature and process of the good life. Chris was supposed to be a big part of this project and I am at a loss, not knowing how to fill that void.

I was so pleased to be able to show my appreciation for Chris by presenting him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Meaning Conference. Please see the attached photo.

Sherri Fisher October 15, 2012 - 2:03 pm

Here are a few more photos of Chris:

1) Chris Peterson having fun with the MAPP class
2) Chris smiling with Gloria Park the same day as photo #1
3) Chris Peterson talking with a student at the Gallup conference
4) Chris and me at graduation

Sue Langley October 15, 2012 - 9:23 pm

Chris definitely mattered in many ways. Being in Australia meant our face to face time was limited. I met Chris at the Positive Psychology conference in Melbourne. I was chairing and he kicked off day one. He was nice. I know that sounds weird (well, perhaps not to this group). I wasn’t expecting him to be so considerate and nice and paid attention when he spoke. It is easy when you get to senior academic roles, and an expert in your field, to stop paying attention to others. Chris made me feel like I mattered and took time to ensure we had a good introduction – around the personal, not the professional. He went seriously over time – mainly because he had so many things he wanted to share. Something I can very much relate to. His impact on the PP field has been enormous and I look forward to continue to use his Primer in PP to inform our new Diploma students.

Michael Steger October 15, 2012 - 9:39 pm

What horrible, horrible news. Chris was such a gigantically giving person. I know we all feel a debt to him for helping usher in this positive psychology, but I can’t help but feel that even though his name is synonymous with celebrating the very best within people, it will be a long time before we can give him the credit he has been due. I know there are many, many people who really knew Chris as a friend. My heart goes out to them, his friends, family, colleagues, students. I wish I had been a part of that group of people even though they must be hurting greatly now. Selfishly, though, I think about my own few Chris stories and that bleak apprehension that there won’t be any more. I loved reading Acacia’s Chris story. It felt like I was able to add a new Chris story to my precious small number.

My first encounters with Chris also were as a wide-eyed graduate student, savoring that humbling ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to the person who wrote all those papers I read’ feeling. Chris was always able to meet people on such an authentic level, though, that the aura-worship vibe just slipped away and 20 minutes after meeting him, he was joining a ragtag group of students wandering around DC trying to find Chinese food. He ambled along with us, joining in the conversation, cracking jokes. He deflected ‘shop talk’ and my feeble efforts to ask about direct oblimin rotations, pattern matrices, and the structure of the VIA, and instead we ended up drinking “Drunken Buddhas,” contemplating the ephemeral aesthetics of tiki-themed chalices, talking about train travel, and just hanging out. At first, I felt that Chris was giving us the gift of “time with the eminent,” but over the years, whether it was bumping into Chris on escalators, catching up at the back of an auditorium, working hard and unsuccessfully to detect the slightest shred of self-satisfaction in him over the success of his work in pos psych, or receiving the wisdom of his editing on a manuscript submission, it became clear he was giving, always was giving, the gift of genuine human connection.

Thanks, Chris.

Amanda Horne October 15, 2012 - 11:52 pm

Because Chris lived by his mantra ‘other people matter’, everyone felt his impact. When with him people felt genuinely valued, either directly in his presence, or more indirectly through teleconferences, email, or as an an audience member at conferences and presentations. His reach was far and wide.

Katherine Peil October 16, 2012 - 8:52 am

Having climbed under a rock in preparation for Beijing, the news of Chris’ passing strikes a particularly poignant chord. A resonant soul brother from first contact, he was of the rare breed whose very essence emanated from an optimal adjacent possible; a beacon of “awesome” brilliance despite a shroud of genuine humility and gentle humanity; one that would often re-stoke the passions of my calling during dark nights, in faith that our paths crossing more often would be my reward. But I realize now that that wasn’t it. The reward is that he shines as brilliantly as ever, if not more. Forever awesome dear heart.

Kathryn Britton October 16, 2012 - 5:38 pm

Another memory has come back to mind, perhaps stimulated by Sue Langley’s memory: Chris scurrying around during the IPPA conference that he co-chaired, shepherding people into the events that ran in parallel with the big-name speakers. He worried about the speakers that had spent time and energy preparing, and he wanted them to have audiences they deserved. He didn’t much care for hero worship.

Eleanor Chin October 17, 2012 - 8:45 am

Chris Peterson lives on. In our hearts.

My favorite three words of Chris’ are “big pulsing brains.” Those words remind me that while our work is based in a tradition that prides itself on cognition and intellectual prowess, we need to remember that we have big pulsing hearts too. Chris was reminding himself, not to live exclusively in that place that creates great contributions, but also to experience how other people matter in our hearts. He was a wise, heartfelt man and I will carry him in my heart as well as my head.

Senia October 18, 2012 - 2:43 am

Reading the quotes above feels like listening to Chris speak.

Of course, “Other people matter.”

Margaret: “Love, not surprisingly, is a robust correlate of life satisfaction – perhaps the chief one.”
Kathryn: “You’ve done a good job as a mother.”
Sherri: “I hope everyone doesn’t want to do that” to Sherri running over in heels to give him a hug
Acacia: “You should see if you can replicate that finding in mimes.”

Alan: “What’s the word in your heart – is it Yes or No?”
Kirsten: On not having to be a member of MAPP to feel that connection, that excitement, and that desire to make the world a better place, “MAPP students are not that special.”
Denise Q: About the VIA after a MAPP class, “It’s not a blood test.”
Shannon: “Do you know any Smokey Robinson?”
Kathy: “Tell me how your family is doing.”

Louis: “…Keep it up. You’re helping people improve their lives and that’s the most important part.”
Elaine: “I am proud of you.”
Eleanor: “big pulsing brains” –> big pulsing hearts

Kathryn, I remember that too now about the IPPA conference: Chris verbally shepherding us to the rooms with the speakers that we may not otherwise have gone to!

Barry Cull October 18, 2012 - 9:46 am

I never met Chris, but my work has been informed by the work that he did. Through this past week I have reflected on my own legacy – how I would want to be remembered. The affection that students had for Chris reminded me of why I do what I do, as a teacher, as a mentor, as a soon to be grandad, as a spouse and as a community leader.

I have tried to capture a brief glimpse of how Chris’ work has reverberated out in the world – through a discussion of a day in my life last week. I invite you to read my blog, dedicated to the memory of a man of the heart. http://lotusneuron.com/watblog/2012/10/18/positive-psychology/work-of-the-heart/

Thank-you Chris.

Alex Hewitt October 19, 2012 - 1:30 pm

I’m a student in Chris Peterson’s undergraduate Positive Psychology class this fall and am deeply saddened by his passing. The five lectures that I was fortunate enough to attend I am truly grateful for and will never forget. He will be missed greatly.

Shari Young Kuchenbecker October 22, 2012 - 3:43 am

A photo of Chris from a conference:

Leona Brandwene October 22, 2012 - 4:44 pm

I’m late in my post, mostly because I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by this great loss. Basking in the remembrances and eulogies of others has been so helpful – thanks, everyone, for engaging in a little “group grief.” It feels cathartic.

Chris was my 701 instructor – a course on Strengths. He was a magical teacher – funny, humble, absent of ego, and never, ever, made you feel like you asked a stupid question (even if you did, and of course, I did). One of the things Chris was masterful at was creating assignments that met BOTH (a) academic learning goals AND (b) made a difference in your life. That’s a really, really hard combination to craft. Most assignments speak to one or the other, but not both.

One of his ‘flagship’ assignments was called “The 25th Strength.” Chris was humble and honest that the number of strengths sat at 24 “because 24 was a ‘good’ number” but frank in noting it may not be an exhaustive list – so asked students to make a case for their nominations for #25. I chose “equanimity” as my 25th, which (in my definition) was the trifecta of mindful awareness + spiritual calmness + connection with humanity. Of course, this was exactly what I was trying to cultivate in myself. And as I looked across my cohort’s papers, each of us, inexplicably, all selected something that we admired and wished to grow in ourselves…so as we were making and defending academic arguments, we were refining and developing concepts that were important to OUR own personal growth. What a smart guy. Ah, Chris, thank you for knowing that REsearch = MEsearch, and knowing that we would all gain personally, not just intellectually, from your crafty assignment. Well done.

My takeaway from that story that I extend to my own teaching is to respect and cultivate each student’s individual learning trajectory and growth – even if it’s a little different than exactly what you had intended. The best teaching is a collaboration. Thanks, Chris, for the lesson. We miss you at MAPP.

With respect, admiration, and humility.

Susan Potter October 28, 2012 - 7:46 pm

Loved reading these posts and watching the videos. They warmed my heart. I only knew Chris from taking virtual classes and reading his books and articles. Whenever I read his works I can “hear” his voice. What a powerful yet kind voice he had. May he rest in peace and know that he is loved and valued, that his life and his work matter and that his work will continue to live on through those who learned so much from him.

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