With the Olympics underway in Japan this month, I caught a snippet of a medal ceremony. I don't remember what sport it was for, but I did notice something fascinating: while all three athletes on the podium looked very happy, one of them had the most captivating look of triumph on his face: the bronze medal winner.
Imagine that you were one of those medal-winning athletes, and that you were standing on that podium.
Let's not focus on the gold medalist. He is, after all, the winner. His place in history is assured.
Let's imagine, instead, the silver medalist. What's he thinking? Is it "Damn! If only I'd been a second faster, swam harder, or lifted more! If only I'd trained more, worked harder!" For him, his victory, no matter how awesome, is always tinged with regret and disappointment. He is, in Jerry Seinfeld's words, the first loser.
But the bronze winner has no such regrets. He is thinking: "By a fraction of a second (or an inch, or a pound) I've won a medal at the Olympics! All those years of training and hard work have paid off! I did it!" There's no animosity towards those who defeated him. It is enough that he's on the winners' podium at all. For the rest of his life, no one will be able to take away the joy and the pride of his moment in Olympic history.
The difference between the silver medalist and the bronze is obvious: the silver is comparing up, while the bronze is comparing down.
The lesson here is simple: When you find yourself envious and resentful, think like a bronze medalist! Instead of comparing yourself up, compare yourself down.
Sure, the desire to be better will drive you to work hard and improve.
But most of the time, we need to be more grateful for what we've accomplished, for how much worse it could have been, and how nice it is to have anything at all.
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