Don’t feel bad for bronze medalists. They’re happier than silver ones.

Generally, bronze medalists in the Olympics are happier than silver medalists. It might seem a little counter-intuitive at first, but thinking of “how things could have been” it seems logical: bronze medalists are happy they medaled at all, while silver medalists are ruminating about how they could have gotten a gold. The 1995 study by Vicki Medvec, Scott Madey, and Tom Gilovich still holds true. 

The researchers proposed that this finding is driven by what is called “counterfactual thinking,” those thoughts of what might have been if something different had happened.  In particular, they proposed that silver medals did upward comparisons to the gold medal winner, while the bronze medalists did downward comparisons to people who didn’t win medals.  As one of the authors, Tom Gilovich, explained to the Washington Post, “If you win a silver, it is very difficult to not think, ‘Boy, if I had just gone a little faster at the end . The bronze-medal winners — some of them might think, ‘I could have gotten gold if I had gone faster,’ but it is easier to think, ‘Boy, I might not have gotten a medal at all!'”

This same counterfactual thinking might explain why it’s really frustrating to be stuck in silver league in Starcraft 2 multiplayer.