A silver medal is better than a bronze medal—yet psychologists have consistently found that bronze medalists are typically happier than silver medalists with the outcome of a competition. NPR offers up this example from London: After winning a silver, Ryan Lochte reflected on coming up "a little short." But after winning a bronze, Brendan Hansen exclaimed that he was "really proud" of himself and that his medal was "the shiniest bronze medal you will ever see."
Why? It all comes down to expectations and comparisons. While silver medalists are inevitably comparing themselves to the gold medalists who beat them, bronze medalists are instead comparing themselves to the many other competitors who didn’t make it onto the podium. "Silver medalists may torment themselves with counterfactual thoughts, of 'If only...' or 'Why didn't I just,'" one set of researchers wrote. "Bronze medalists, in contrast, may be soothed by the thought that, 'At least I won a medal.'"