Research in psychology, however, indicates that bronze medallists are happier than those who get silver. Why might that be?
By Aruna Sankaranarayanan
For the vast majority, an Olympic medal is beyond our wildest reckonings. But setting aside your lack of sporting prowess, would you prefer to win a silver or bronze medal at the upcoming Tokyo Games? Without losing a breath, did you opt for the stirling prize? Research in psychology, however, indicates that bronze medallists are happier than those who get silver. Why might that be?
Science journalist, Jason Goldman, explores this phenomenon in an article in Scientific American. He cites the work of psychologists Victoria Medvec, Thomas Gilovich and Scott Madey, who coded the facial expressions of winners, right after their events and then again at the victory stand. Unsurprisingly, the gold medalists appeared the most euphoric. But intriguingly, those who won bronze seemed more content than those who placed second. The researchers attribute this puzzling result to a pan-human tendency to engage in counterfactual or “what if” thinking.
Soon after the finals, a silver medallist is likely to deconstruct his performance to figure out why he missed the gold.On the other hand, the bronze medalist is probably thankful to even be on the victory stand as she probably compares herself with opponents who didn’t get a medal. Thus, objectively speaking, even though silver medallists perform better than those who come third, their frame of reference sets them up to experience less positivity as they make upward comparisons. In contrast, the bronze holders, by virtue of making a downward comparison, are thrilled with their outcome.
The silver vs. bronze effect has an important lesson for all of us. When we are down in the dumps, we need to watch ourselves engaging in counterproductive thinking. “What if I didn’t fall sick before the test? I would have gotten a higher score.” “If I didn’t goof up the last interview, I am sure I would have landed the job.” These
examples indicate that the person is comparing his present lot with more gleeful outcomes of what could have been.
Instead, if the student who fell ill before the test assures herself, “Even though I fell sick, I am glad that I got through.At least, I don’t have to redo the exam.” Likewise, if she consoles herself after the failed interview, “I think I will be able to crack an interview soon because I am getting better with practice.”
When things seem especially bleak, remember that your perspective on the situation contributes considerably to how it appears.If you are downcast, check whether you are adding to your woes by fixating on upward comparisons. Perhaps, it’s time you started listing out what’s going right with you. Even if you don’t feel inclined, compel
yourself to count your blessings.
Reframing a ‘hopeless’ situation through a more charitable and compassionate lens will help you tackle it more adroitly while increasing your sense of contentment.
(The author is Director, PRAYATNA. Views expressed are the author’s own)