Last week, I managed to get embroiled in a Facebook argument about the appropriate demeanor of the silver medalists on the Olympic podium. Like most Facebook arguments, no minds were changed, but it reminded me of a study I’d read about silver and bronze medalist winners.
Silver medalists tend to be unhappy because they compare themselves with the gold medalists and view themselves as losing the gold. Bronze medalists, on the other hand, compare themselves with all the people who didn’t get on the podium and are quite happy as a result.
The lesson is clear (at least to me): Be careful with whom you compare yourself. In general, there will always be those who are more or less successful than you at any given time. There will be those who are in better physical health and those who are sicker. Some people will have more money while others have less. On any given day, some of the folks around you will be happier while others will be more miserable.
There can be a danger in comparisons with either group. You can give up in misery because you’re not as successful as some folks. Or you can become complacent because, after all, you’re a much better worker, friend, student, etc. than that slacker over there.
Obviously, the wisest course is not to spend time playing the comparison game at all. Or at least, make it a solitary endeavor, trying each day to be a little better than the day before.