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.’ “