The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Second Place is the First Place Loser

Happy people finish first (or third)!


 Does winning the bronze medal make people happier than winning the silver medal?

If you asked any olympic athlete, they would say they would rather win the silver medal than the bronze. To put this in perspective, imagine a scenario where two athletes are facing off. One will win silver and one will win bronze, but both are guarenteed a medal. There is pretty much no way one of the athletes would lose on purpose.

Yet research consistently shows that Olympic athletes are happier when they win a bronze medal, than when they win a silver medal. It seems that second place is a less happy place than third! So much for excelling making you happier!

In one of these studies, psychologists had coders rate how happy they thought silver and bronze oylmpic medalists looked when getting their medal. In another, they rated the happiness of the atheletes in interviews that were on tv. They then did the same thing with interviews from amateur atheletes at the "Empire Games" in New York. In all three studies, third made people happier than second. These results held well after the medal ceremony.

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These findings were described as resulting from comparisons the medalists made. The silver medalist compares him  or herself to the gold medal winner. But, the bronze medal winner compares him or herself to those people who did not win a medal.

I guess in some cases, third is better than second, at least if you want to be happy!


Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.


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