Yesterday I happened to meet up with a guy in a coffee shop. We recognized each other immediately. While chatting, we got coffee, sat down, and talked about positive psychology.
The meeting was neither random nor happenstance. We planned it. I know it’s silly to say that something goes without saying, and writing that something goes without saying is sillier yet, but I’m writing it anyway: Planning and intentionality are very good things. Without intentional planning, I never would have met my coffee-buddy, and I’d be less smart today than I am now.
This guy (I’ll call him Carlton, because that’s his name) was inspired to reach out to me with an email because I’m teaching a Happiness Class at the University of Montana this spring semester. He has a Master’s degree in positive psychology. He wanted to talk. Positive psychology people are like that. After using my impaired scheduling skills to mess up our first planned meeting, we were able to get together on our second try.
Carlton was abuzz with positive energy even before he drank his Americano, but that should be no particular surprise. He told me about taking red-eye flights from Seattle to Philadelphia to complete his “commuter” M.A. in positive psych. Clearly, he’s high on life, which made for an episode of fast talking and listening that got cut short by my need to drive east to Absarokee. So, what happened during this short, speedy conversation that made me smarter?
Turns out, we’re from the same hometown. I’m sure that made me smarter. After all, that was the town where I read nearly every Norman Vincent Peale book ever written. Apparently, I learned that growing up in Vancouver, Washington creates a need for positivity. But, of greater relevance was the fact that he was (another non-surprise) a treasure of information about positive psychology.
Carlton told me of some of his favorite positive psychology ideas and activities. I took notes. I’m not going into the details. Most of the information is top-secret and you’ll have to take my Happiness class to get the down low. Instead. I’m presenting you with one highlight to take with you into your weekend.
The best part—amongst many good parts—was being re-introduced to one of the biggest positive psychology names of all time. Although I knew about Christopher Peterson in a distant sort of way, I’d never really plunged into his work. Maybe that’s because I figured if I knew about Martin Seligman, then I didn’t need to know much about Chris Peterson. Or maybe it was because sometimes I have a limited and narrow take on the world. Somehow, sometimes, I presume that if I don’t know about something, it must not be all that important, or I would have already learned it. I recognize that as a terribly self-centered perspective, but it can creep into my psyche anyway, leading me down a road where I think I already know everything I need to know. When that happens, I need to do work to get around and past or through my own narrow mental world.
Carlton not only offered to lecture in my Happiness class (yet another reason to register now!), he also helped open my mind to deeper issues in positive psychology. He told me about a video where Peterson boils everything about positive psychology down to three words. The three words, “Other people matter.”
Being a big fan and proponent of Adler and social interest or Gemeinschaftsgefühl, I experienced deep and immediate love for Peterson’s three words. They were simpler and deeper than other positive psychology words and ideas I’d experienced previously. And remember, I spent most of the late 1970’s reading Norman Vincent Peale. In addition to The Power of Positive Thinking and You Can If You Think You Can, both of which I now consider mostly a load of crock (I’m not quite sure what a crock is, but I’m using crock as a euphemism so I can claim that at least some of my blogs are profanity-free). I even read some of Peale’s less popular works, like, Sin, Sex, and Self-Control. . . the reading of which may partially explain my interest in having at least some profanity-free blogs.
This morning I looked at my notes and I looked up the Chris Peterson video. Spoiler alert, my favorite part is when Peterson says:
“Sometimes when I give a talk, I tell the audience, if you really don’t want to listen to me for the next hour, listen to me for five seconds, because I’ll tell you what positive psychology is all about. Other people matter. Period. I’m done with my talk.” (Chris Peterson, Ph.D., from an interview and shown as a part of a Positivity Project video that you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEc2W8JVuRw).
Obviously, that’s an awesome quotation, and an amazing five-second talk, but I like this next Peterson quotation even better. The story is that one of Peterson’s research buddies, Nansook Park, asked Peterson how or why he gave so freely of himself to others. Peterson responded, “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else.”
I know everyone reading this won’t feel the tingle I feel, but I love the statement, “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else.” Peterson’s message is circular. If I want to be loved, then I love. Okay, maybe it’s just a knock off of the Golden Rule, which may be a knock off of ancient Egypt’s “Do to the doer to make him do.” Even so, I find the statement that “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else” an empowering way to think about how important it is to lead with love and kindness and respect. It’s important for them, and it’s important for us.
Now that I’ve quoted and re-quoted Peterson several times, I’m sensing that this blog is moving toward its natural conclusion. But, just like it’s hard to find the natural origin of the reciprocity maxim (i.e., Golden Rule), it’s also hard to find the natural conclusion. I could end with Adler (always a solid choice). In his boldly titled book (What life should mean to you) from 1931, Adler said that the meaning of life was to have “interest in others and cooperation.”
Alternatively, I might end with a quick summary of a 75-year longitudinal Harvard study. The researchers concluded: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
Instead, I’ll point you to a video written by Tiffany Shlain and Sawyer Steele, titled 30,000 Days. I discovered this video while in pursuit of information on Christopher Peterson (instead of being in the pursuit of happiness). Watching the 11 minute 30,000 Days video is one way to launch your upcoming fantastic weekend. Here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/226378903