A friend made a comment about members of a certain women's Olympic hockey team (no spoilers) looking pretty sad after losing their final game at Sochi, which meant winning the silver medal. I was reminded of research I heard about two years ago during the Summer Olympics that said bronze medal winners are happier than silver medal winners.
Researchers Victoria Medvec, Scott Madey and Thomas Gilovich studied photographs and post competition interviews and determined that the bronze medal winners were happier than those who won silver. Their paper can be read in here.
If you aren't up to reading an entire academic paper, an NPR segment on the subject can be read or listened to here. From the NPR story
The psychologists guessed it was because silver medal-winners compare themselves to the athletes who won gold and feel they came up short. By contrast, bronze medal-winners seem to unconsciously compare themselves to people who didn't win a medal at all.
"Silver medalists may torment themselves with counterfactual thoughts, of 'If only...' or 'Why didn't I just,' " the researchers wrote. "Bronze medalists, in contrast, may be soothed by the thought that, 'At least I won a medal.' "
The researchers even tried eliminated sports that are decided in final games where the silver medal winner has in fact just lost a game whereas the bronze medal winner just won a game. The pattern was the same even for events that did not use a playoff format.
So what does this mean? Should we all strive to take third place to avoid disappointment? Of course not. But when we don't quite reach our goals we should try not to dwell on the little we came up short but instead focus on how far we came to get there.
Particularly at the Olympics, no one chosen to compete should be considered a loser whether they win gold, silver, bronze, or no medal at all.
On a related note, read this great post from the Tween Us blog: Thank you, Shaun White, for not medaling at the Olympics
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