Why Silver is the worst medal of all


Watching the Olympic 10m diving yesterday, one couldn’t help but be struck by the delight of Tom Daley, in third, versus the desolation of Qiu Bo in second. This morning a friend sent me a good reason for it: counterfactual thinking.

Put simply, Silver looks at Gold and thinks about loss. But Bronze looks at the whole of the rest of the field and delights in making the podium at all. Each sees the most obvious counterfactual outcome – what might have been. Gold for one, nothing at all for the other. Each then frames their assessment of their situation accordingly: Dumb luck vs Result!

It’s a fascinating insight. And one which travels to other domains – notably work. People often obsess about the job they haven’t got, instead of being grateful for the one they have.

Instead of lamenting over the top spot, more of us should revel in making the podium. Bronze is a more precious metal than it looks.

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