Think Like The Bronze Medallist
March 24, 2023
In 1995, researchers from Cornell University published the results of a path-breaking social study they conducted on Olympic champions.
The researchers interviewed Olympic medallists to assess their personal satisfaction and happiness levels given their success at the altar of sporting excellence. Surprisingly, they found that bronze medallists reported happiness levels similar to those of gold medallists, while silver medallists experienced substantially lower satisfaction levels.
The researchers discovered an interesting pattern when they delved deeper to understand the strange results. Bronze medallists tended to compare themselves to those who didn’t qualify for the podium finish. Therefore they felt a sense of personal satisfaction and gratitude for being ahead of the rest of the pack. On the other hand, Silver medallists were comparing themselves to the gold medal winner and feeling miserable for losing out on the chance for ultimate glory.
Upward Counterfactual Thinking
The study named this phenomenon Upward Counterfactual Thinking, where the comparison is made upward rather than downward. This refers to the tendency to think about what could have been if the situation had turned out differently and to obsess over how the current situation falls short of the ideal. Upward comparison is the bane of one’s sense of well-being and satisfaction, often leading to feelings of regret, inadequacy, envy, and disappointment.
This study highlights the irony of how our mind works. You may be the top at something(like the Olympic champions), but if you compare upwards, you will always feel dissatisfied. Therefore, we must figure out ways to focus on our own achievements, being grateful for what we have rather than constantly comparing ourselves to others who have achieved more.
So, the next time you begin to compare your achievements to those of others, stop yourself and remember the lesson from the Olympic medallists. Aiming high and striving for excellence is okay, but it’s equally important to be grateful for what you have achieved and not to let comparisons with others undermine your sense of self-worth and happiness.
Think like the Bronze Medallist, not the Silver Medallist.