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[Opinion] Medal Color and Happiness

Posted August. 12, 2008 06:59,   


Cornell University of the United States studied happiness among silver and bronze medalists in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Using TV relay broadcasts, the researchers measured the happiness of individual medalists on a scale of one to 10 when their final scores were announced. The average happiness index of a silver medalist was 4.8, while that of a bronze medalist was 7.1. This means third-place finishers were happier than runners-up. At the award ceremony, the happiness index of the bronze winner was 5.7 as opposed to 4.3 for the silver medalist. What explains this?

The answer lies in different standards. While a silver medalist aims for the gold, a bronze medalist has no such pressure. He or she tends to feel grateful and joy over getting a medal. Satisfaction based on achievement is relative, and can be called the relativity principle of happiness. Our ancestors seem familiar with this notion, with a saying that goes, “A person should know one’s place. Living not in accordance with one’s means only sows the seed of unhappiness.”

Unfortunately, Koreans apparently obsess over a medal’s color. Athletes look less happy when they get a silver or bronze. Despite being an immense achievement on the world stage, second or third place bring little joy to Korean competitors. Olympic judo gold medalist Choi Min-ho is said to have felt that way after finishing third at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He heard nothing from professional judo teams and suffered isolation from his fellow gold-winning teammates.

The notion of “achievement is everything” is prevalent among Korean athletes, in stark contrast to the attitude of Austria’s Ludwig Paischer, who lost to Choi Min-ho in the men’s 60-kilogram final at the Beijing Olympics. Never losing his warm and welcoming smile, he congratulated Choi by extending his hand first and looked happy as if thankful for the silver. Next to the sobbing Choi was the European judo champion, who gave Choi a warm hug. A host of Korean netizens said they were touched by Paischer’s sportsmanship. Our silver and bronze medalists should learn from him. They have no reason to feel sorry to the nation and the people. Rather, they should be proud of their results if they did their best. Winning any medal at the Olympics games is still a major achievement.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)