The bizarre psychology of the bronze medal win
The researchers found that, following a competition, athletes who won bronze appeared to be significantly happier on average and that silver medalists tend to focus more than bronze medalists on what they failed to achieve.
"They compare themselves to the gold medalist and thereby think of what they didn't achieve; the bronze medalists also focus on what didn't happen: They didn't come in fourth and fail to get a medal," Gilovich said.
In other words, counterfactual thinking influences how satisfied each athlete feels.
What's another example of counterfactual thinking for those of us who are not Olympic athletes? "College admissions," McGraw said. "Do you get your first choice? Do you get your second choice? It took me three tries to get into graduate school, and I only got into one, and so I was so much happier to be there than my peers who turned down three other schools."