18th February 1950 – 9th October 2012
“Chris’s favourite saying was “other people matter‘ … that is how he lived his life” – Martin Seligman at Christopher Peterson Memorial.
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Christopher Peterson was one of the founding fathers of positive psychology and was a well-respected professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Peterson is one of the top 100 most cited psychologists in last 30 years.
Peterson was a member of the Positive Psychology Steering Committee, a consulting editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology, a member of the board of directors of the Gallup Organization Positive Psychology Institute, and the positive psychology series editor of Oxford University Press.
In addition he also had a blog called ‘The Good Life: Positive psychology and what makes life worth living’ for Psychology Today.
Peterson completed a doctorate emphasizing in social psychology and personality psychology from the University of Colorado. He then redirected his studies with another doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also completed his post-doctoral training.
In 1986, Peterson became a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, where he was well respected and became known as ‘Mother Theresa’ for his kindness. In 2010, Peterson won the Golden Apple Award, the University of Michigan’s most prestigious student nominated teaching award.
“Professor Peterson would put his heart into what he was (doing), he was so unbelievably present.” – Molly Martin (Peterson’s student)
Research on Character Strengths
Christopher Peterson is known for his research into character strengths and virtues. He co-authored, with Martin Seligman, the well-known book ‘Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification’. This book provides both practical answers and definitions to why strengths should be discussed within the realm of positive psychology. Peterson and Seligman used philosophical guidelines and different cultural examples of moral excellence to settle with 6 key virtues and the 24 key strengths within those virtues. The 6 categories are: wisdom, justice, temperance, courage, humanity and transcendence. You can read more about this book here.
One of Peterson’s most ambitious undertakings, within positive psychology, was the Virtues in Action (VIA) project, producing the well known VIA survey of signature strengths. This project allows you to discover your character strengths in order to further utilise them to your potential, and was fashioned in accordance with empirical research.
You can benefit directly from Peterson’s pursuits, as he established the VIA website, allowing you to take a free survey to discover your character strengths. From there on you can chose to enrol in specially tailored courses or purchase a report detailing tips on how to utilise your strengths, or merely research these qualities further. Additionally, the website also has a section for professionals, enabling you to implement these positive techniques into the workplace or cultivate your leadership skills further.
Peterson is the author of over 350 publications that includes books, scholarly journals, column articles, stating that
“We are all the same, and each of us is unique, certainly in death but also in life. May we all stop and notice.”
– Christopher Peterson’s final two sentences from his last column, ‘Awesome: E Pluribus Unum‘, published four days before his death.
What Makes Life Worth Living?
Audio Interviews With Peterson
Audio 1: Unscripted interview by Ben Dean with Chris Peterson about his life outside the academic context – Listen here.
Audio 2: In-depth interview by Ben Dean with Chris Peterson about his research – Listen here.
Peterson’s Published Books
- Peterson, C. (2012). Pursuing the good life: 100 reflections on positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
- Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
- Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.
- Peterson, C. (1997). Psychology: A biopsychosocial approach. Longman Publishing Group.
- Peterson, C., Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. (1995). Learned helplessness: A theory for the age of personal control. Oxford University Press.
- Peterson, C., & Bossio, L. M. (1991). Health and optimism. Free Press.
- Dean, B. (2006). Chris Peterson | Coaching Toward Happiness. From here.
- Glatthorn, H., & Rademaker, T. (2012, October 10). University community remembers Prof. Peterson. From here.
- Seligman, M. (2012, November 12). Memorial. Retrieved Youtube.
- Wright, R. (2012, October 14). Very Nice Guy (and Important Psychologist) Dies. From here.