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7 Tips For Success for First Year Students: A Study in Resilience and Flourishing

By: Diana Brecher
September 20, 2016
Numerous individuals walking past the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. There are people walking up and down the entrance stairs, as well as people sitting on the stairs.

ThriveRU is a new initiative in Student Affairs designed to infuse programming for and services to students with principles of positive psychology. The goal of the Resilience at Ryerson: ThriveRU series is to introduce Ryerson’s new flourishing program based on the PERMA-V model, provide materials you can share with students, and offer links to external resources and suggested readings to advance your ability to teach your students to thrive.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, external link, refers to the “40% solution”. She explains that there are 3 factors that determine well-being: genetics, life circumstances, and intentional activities. We all have a genetically determined set point for happiness and it accounts for about 50% of our overall level of life satisfaction. Specific life circumstances (are we rich or poor, healthy or sick, employed or not, single or in a significant relationship) all account for about 10% of our level of happiness. The remaining 40% of the life satisfaction pie is based on our intentional activities—referring to those things under our control. This is wonderful news: it is up to us to choose our attitudes and behaviours when we are faced with challenging situations, and this will determine if we thrive or not.

Pie Graph: 40% controllable, 10% situational, 50% genetics

Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish, developed a model of flourishing, external link which consisted of 5 dimensions: positivity, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. Emilya Zhivotovskaya, a former graduate student of his and the director of The Flourishing Centre in NYC, added a sixth dimension: vitality. Martin Seligman has since incorporated vitality into his original model, and the whole model is now commonly referred to as the PERMA-V model.

When I was asked to create a tip sheet for first year students at Ryerson—in the context of my new position as Scholar in Residence, Positive Psychology, for the ThriveRU Initiative in Student Affairs—I was inspired by Lyubomirsky’s idea of the 40% solution and Seligman’s PERMA-V model. I wanted to show students that they are in control of their happiness. So I applied the PERMA -V model to develop 7 Tips For Success for First Year Students at Ryerson. In order to make this more relevant to Ryerson Student Affairs, I have linked  these 7 tips to our 5 Pillars: Personal Development, Learning, Community, Professional  Development and Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Below are descriptions of each of Seligman’s PERMA-V model dimensions, the RyersonSA Pillar to which they apply, and my associated Tip For Success for first year students.


A general category that refers to positive emotions (including happiness and well-being overall) plus the ability to manage your emotions. It also refers to attitudes and behaviours associated with growth mindset, resilience, and optimistic thinking style.

Tip #1: Manage your energy, not your time

Pillar: Personal Development

Direct your attention and focus your energy when assignment deadlines and exams are due. Sitting at your computer or in the library isn’t enough; you need to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Your FOMO (fear of missing out—on fun) has to take a back seat at strategic times to your academic and career aspirations.


Our ability to experience flow and peak performance, typically using our strengths and leading from them. It also includes the competence to make good decisions, the ability to savour life’s experiences, and the capacity to live in the present moment (mindfulness).

Tip #2: Engage your mind

Pillar: Learning

Success comes from hard work and an open mind. University demands are different from high school and the expectations are higher. Learn from your mistakes and gradually bounce back. Putting in the effort up front makes all the difference. Talk to your instructors to better understand what they expect from you.


Our ability to make connections with other people, build communities, forgive ourselves and others, show kindness through altruism and volunteering, and the capacity for assertive communication.

Tip 3#: Make connections

Pillar: Community

Building community is important. Get curious and involved in campus life through student organizations and volunteer opportunities (both on and off campus). Get to know your instructors and ask for help if you need it. Discover which resources and services are available to you on campus and reach out for support.


Engaging in our lives with purpose and passion; perceiving our work (or studies) as a “calling” and experiencing considerable sense of fulfillment through all of our accomplishments.

Tip #4: Start a meaningful journey

Pillar: Professional Development

This is a great opportunity to learn about many things of interest to you. University should provide a worthwhile, engaging, and exciting learning process leading to a satisfying career. Enjoy the journey. If you aren’t engaged in your studies or your community, it may be time to ask for help.


Our achievements are the direct result of our hard work, grit and perseverance. When we accomplish our goals, it is often accompanied by an increased sense of meaning and purpose. This further fuels our motivation to try harder and push past challenges, and the hope that we can make our dreams a reality.

Tip #5: Persevere

Pillar: Learning

Being gritty means sticking to your long term goals and being passionate about them despite small setbacks or challenges along the way. But if you change your mind it is OK; be gritty about the next thing. Accept that setbacks are part of the process and keep going anyway.


The full range of attitudes and behaviours associated with living a healthy life, including: balancing work and play, regular physical activity, healthy eating, stress management, restorative sleep, sexual health, and consent.

Tip #6: Manage your stress

Pillar: Mental Health and Well-being

Develop your ability to work well under pressure; learn to make the choice to study for your mid-term exam or complete that assignment, instead of going to a party; engage in self-care. Live a balanced life: healthy eating, restorative sleep, regular exercise, and pleasurable activities (e.g. socializing, yoga, meditation, music, hobbies).

Tip #7: Doing the balancing act

Pillar: Mental Health and Well-being

If you notice that you are at either end of the continuum, you should slide towards the middle to get back in balance:

On the healthy spectrum, these are the balance points in the middle: working hard enough, sleeping enough, healthy eating, motivated to do your work, calm, somewhat social, careful work, focused on tasks, energized.

It takes time to find your balance. Trust yourself and you will.