Chris Peterson, one of the 100 most cited psychologists in the world, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, and a visionary in the study of character strengths and virtues, passed away this week at the age of 62. The outpouring of sadness and affection in the psychology community has been inspiring in its depth and poignancy.
Chris Peterson said positive psychology could be summed up in three simple words “other people matter.” Anyone who knew Chris, even briefly, could see that he lived by this simple code.
Here are some words of wisdom from Chris, as culled from his wonderful blog, “The Good Life” at Psychology Today:
On family dinners . . .
It may be tempting to dismiss the family meal as a quaint holdover from the 1950s of Norman Rockwell and the Cleaver family. Not so fast.
Increase the number of family meals you share. Turn off the television. Catch up with one another. Linger at the dinner table. None of this can hurt. And I suspect it will help your kids be better people.
On families being the core of spirituality . . .
Ms. Egan is a hospice chaplain, and she described her work with the dying. She started by recounting a conversation she had with one of her professors while she was a young divinity student and learning the ropes of her profession. She was interning as a student chaplain in a cancer hospital, and one of her professors asked her what she talked about with the patients.
She replied, “We talk about their families.”
The professor was apparently surprised, and asked her if they talked about God. “Not usually.”
What about religion? “Not usually.”
What about the meaning and purpose of life? “Not usually. We talk about their families.”
Do you pray with them? “Sometimes, but not usually. They talk about their families, and I listen.”
On stress in the workplace . . .
It is not enough to decrease stress in the workplace; we must also increase well-being. Practices to do so must make sense within a workplace. It’s not rocket science, dear readers, just a matter of talking to workers and heeding what they might suggest.
On doing the right thing
If we want people (including ourselves) to do the right thing, we need to encourage agency and communion. We need to do whatever we can to make people happy and satisfied. We need to put a human face on “those” people who may be affected by our actions. We need guidelines about what is acceptable, and we need to enforce these.
No one said that doing the right thing is easy. But the right thing remains the right thing.
Maybe we should think about the benefits of friendship, not for us, but for others. Who in our circle might most benefit from having a friend? Probably not those who are already popular. When was the last time you (or I) set out to befriend a person who was a bit isolated, a bit awkward, or a bit difficult? Maybe you are like me, and the answer would be seldom or never. I intend to change that.
On leisure . . .
The defining feature of leisure? The companionship of other people. So, working out alone in a gym is a discretionary activity, and it has benefits, but it is not seen as leisure. The same workout routine, done with others and not just next to them, becomes leisure, perhaps more fun and perhaps more likely to be sustained.
On the value of high-fives . . .
Most of us do not groom or even touch our colleagues at work, at least not if we want to keep our jobs, but sports are an exception. Players in games like basketball often celebrate with various forms of touching, many well-known enough to have earned their own names: e.g., fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, half hugs, and team huddles.
. . . even small acts of celebration, as they accumulate, can have large effects on team performance. The take-home message is simple: Celebrate with those in your family or class or neighborhood or workplace, in whatever ways make sense within your group. Good things may result.
On those who regard humility as a weakness and not a strength . . ..
Perhaps humility is indeed not beneficial, but I fret about this apparent conclusion. As I am fond of saying, all strengths are strong. Folks throughout the ages have agreed that humility is a strength, and a strength should have benefits. So what is the “so what” of humility? To what desirable outcomes might it lead? Perhaps my own research has not looked at the right sorts of outcomes.
One important “so what” of humility is helpfulness to others. Other people matter, and we can matter more to others if we matter less to ourselves. “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Hail to the humble.
On expressing appreciation and gratitude:
Other people matter. But few of them are mind readers. Let them know that they matter. They might benefit. And you certainly will.
Thank you Chris, for sharing your wisdom with the world. You mattered to many.
Beautiful, Jeremy, about a beautiful guy. I am going to post more extensive thoughts tomorrow AM on my Talent Management blog, but like you I am struck by the outpouring of feeling from the PP community over Chris’ death. We should all live by his code.
Jeremy – Excellent Post!
What a wonderful way to remember Chris by sharing many of his nuggets of wisdom with us all.
Thank you VERY much!
I’ve written a bunch of those down Jeremy! On friends, on doing the right thing, and on humility in particular.
Thanks for taking the time to go through Chris’s blog and sharing it.
A powerful, insightful, remarkable man.
Thank you for writing this piece. I have felt so sad about Chris’ death even though I never met him. His work has had a big impact on my life. This is such a moving collection of quotes.
Nicely done, Jeremy. A true testament to Chris and his dedication to make the world a better place.
What thoughtful choices, Jeremy. You are fortunate to have had the opportunity to share with him and it is obvious in your writings that he has had a profound impact on your life. Thanks for the tribute to a wonderful man.
What a beautiful piece and a way to capture Chris in his own words. I, too, will take some specific things from this to do in my life.
Wanted to let your readers know that 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: http://mappalum.org/Donation — mention Chris in the “in Honor of” section.
Your touching tribute is like velvet wisdom, Jeremy. I will treasure this blog forever. Brilliant and moving.
Thank you everyone for reading and sharing Chris’ wisdom (and also for contributing to the scholarship fund in his name–thanks Shannon!)
I just re-read the article that I wrote about my wedding day. Although it doesn’t mention Chris specifically, it really shows the impact he and his work had on my life . . .