Why Olympic bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists

Laurie Santos, a psychology professor, teaches the "most popular class in the history of Yale University," according to this article in The Atlantic. Her class is called "Psychology and the Good Life." She spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday to present the "shortest possible crash-course version of the class." She said the human mind has two glitches that make it hard to be happy.

The first glitch is "hedonic adaptation."  We get used to the good stuff we have (like a warm bed, food, tech gadgets) and stop appreciating them. She offers two ways to reduce hedonic adaptation — the first is to spend your money on novel experiences rather than things. The second is to set aside time to think about the things you should be grateful for in your life.

The second glitch is that we tend to compare our lives to people who are doing better than us:

People, says Santos "dwell on relative comparisons instead of absolutes—in other words, how what we have compares with what others have, not whether what we have is plenty for us. She pointed to research that looked at Olympic medalists: Those who won gold were of course visibly thrilled after their event, but bronze medalists appeared happier on the medal stand than silver medalists. That's because of, the psychological theory goes, each medalist's reference points. The silver medalists were probably fixated on the gold medal they didn't get, but the bronze medalists were probably thinking about how their alternative reality was receiving no medal at all."

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