Olympic Medals and Happiness

All athletes are ecstatic over winning a gold medal at the Olympics. But how about second and third place winners? It turns out that a bronze medal will bring more happiness than a silver medal!
Research by three U.S. academics, who analyzed heat-of-the-moment reactions, medal-stand temperament and interviews of Olympians, shows that bronze-medal winners, on average, are happier with their finishes than silver medalists. Take silver, and you tend to fixate on the near miss. Score bronze, and you are thankful you were not shut out altogether.

"When you come in second," said Thomas Gilovich, chairman of Cornell's psychology department and one of the study's co-authors, "it's the most natural thing in the world to look upward. 'I got the silver and that's what it is, but what is it not? It's not the gold.'

"With the bronze, the natural place to look is downward. 'I got the bronze. That's what it is, but what it isn't is off the medal stand.' "

The research was done during the 1992 summer games in Barcelona, but the findings appear to hold true in 2010. Link -via Digg

(image credit: Flickr user selihpxe8)

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This is a classic study in social psychology. If anyone is interested in the theory, it's called counterfactual thinking.
This theory can be applied to many other situations e.g. grades - students who gain enough marks to just scrap in with a B will be more satisfied than those who just missed out on an A, despite achieving the same categorical outcome.
It's the "if only I..." versus the "at least I..." attitude.
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