3 Reasons Thriving is Not What You Think

Thriving in college does not mean everything is going as planned, and it's more than feeling happy. Instead, thriving in college is about moving through transitions while maintaining a sense of well-being.

Home Virtual Student Center King's 101

Thriving in college does not mean everything is going as planned, and it’s more than feeling happy. Instead, thriving in college is about moving through transitions while maintaining a sense of well-being.

If someone asked you today, “Are you thriving?,” what would you say? How would you know what to say?

It’s easy to associate the idea of thriving with feelings of happiness or with the experience of little or no difficulty in life. Perhaps we feel like we’re thriving on days when everything seems to go as planned or when lots of good things are happening. If we’re thriving, we think, everything must be “under control” and going well. Right?

Not necessarily. And we suggest three reasons why thriving in college isn’t what you think.

1. Thriving does not mean everything goes as planned.

Think of the last week. Was there even one day in which everything went just as you planned it? That’s unlikely, especially if you live in New York City, and especially if you just moved and are doing lots of things for the first time– like Kingsian classes and navigating the subway. It’s unrealistic to think every day will go as planned. It’s just not the way life works, and it’s also not what we should expect from a Biblical worldview. The Bible is filled with narratives that include disappointment and suffering, and it instructs us to cultivate– not to control– the latent goodness within our world. So it doesn’t make sense for us to associate thriving with successful plans when we know, from both lived experience and a Biblical perspective, that the current state of the world is not such that all things go as planned.

2. Thriving is more than a feeling.

Happiness is great. We love being happy. But we can thrive even when we don’t feel happy feelings. How is this so? There are more dimensions to life than just the ways we feel. If we rely on only that one part of life–feelings– to indicate thriving, we’d be overlooking at least a few other meaningful things, like relationships and virtue and health, that can be important contributors. Plus, happiness is complex. The fleeting feeling has a lot to do with our expectations and with the ideas or experiences to which we’ve been exposed. If I’ve been exposed to dark chocolate and love it, I could choose to have it every day for every meal, but eventually that choice would make me unhappy. The things that make us happy will change over time, and that’s probably good– especially if our loves are being reordered, as Augustine perceived. So thriving is more than a feeling because we, and our lives, are too complex to be measured by that one, ever-changing, metric alone.

3. Thriving is about well-being through transition.

The theory of College Student Thriving, developed by Dr. Laurie Schreiner, is composed of academic, relational, and psychological well-being[I]. Students are thriving when they maintain a sense of well-being as they move through the natural transitions of college life, like entering college for the first time or moving from the first year to the second. Even changing your major can represent a transition, as does a new set of classes with each semester. According to Schreiner, students are thriving when they are “engaged in the learning process, investing effort to reach important educational goals, managing their time and commitments effectively, connected in healthy ways to other people, optimistic about their futures, positive about their present choices, appreciative of differences in others, and committed to enriching their community.”[II] Thriving is multifaceted, and it occurs over a span of time. It’s not dependent on feelings or outcomes. And notice, thriving does not involve perfection in your intellectual, social, and emotional life, rather it involves consistent movement in a generative direction. This is something we can do, and you can cultivate thriving in your life at King’s.

Aren’t you glad thriving isn’t the same as happiness or seamless days? Because it’s a process, and one in which you can actively engage, consider again how you might respond to the question of whether you’re thriving. Perhaps you’ll find you’re doing better than you thought.

  1. Schreiner, L. A. (2012). From surviving to thriving during transitions. In L. A. Schreiner, M. C. Louis, & D. D. Nelson (Eds.), Thriving in transitions: A research-based approach to college student success (pp. 1-18). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.
  2. Ibid., p.5.

See more about: