Writing on his blog
, entrepreneur Derek Sivers suggests that in a competition, the person who comes in third place should be happier than the one who comes in second place.
Picture the end of a race in the Olympics, where the 3 winners are standing on the podium: the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Now imagine what it feels like to be the silver medalist: if you were a second faster, you could have won the gold. Filled with envy, you would keep comparing yourself to the gold winner.
But as the bronze medalist, you would have a completely different perspective: if you were a second slower, you wouldn’t have won anything. You would be thrilled that you were an Olympic medalist, and got to stand on the podium at all.
The lesson is that if you find yourself burning with envy or resentment, it’s better to think like a bronze medalist than silver: “Instead of comparing up to the next-higher situation, compare down to the next-lower.”
Sivers borrows the medalist metaphor from psychologist Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice
, and suggests that it can be applied to a range of everyday situations.
Take any marketplace where things vary according to price – for example, real estate, the stock market, or even salaries.
If you find yourself comparing the deal you received to the best possible deal, and being upset at the difference, try instead to compare your deal to the worst possible one, and feel grateful for that difference.
Sivers acknowledges that the bronze-medalist perspective may not apply to every competitive scenario.
When you’re ambitious and trying to be the best at some specific skill, it’s useful to be dissatisfied, like the silver medalist comparing up to the gold. You can use that feeling as motivation to practice and improve.
But, as Sivers puts it, “most of the time, you need to be more grateful for what you’ve got, for how much worse it could have been, and how nice it is to have anything at all.”