Why bronze medalists can be the happiest people on the podium.

Have you heard about Fu Yuanhui yet? She's basically breaking the internet.

Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images.

On Aug. 8, 2016, Fu represented China in the women's Olympic 100-meter backstroke semifinal. It was a close race, and she finished in just 58.95 seconds. And when she heard that time, she basically exploded into smiles.


"Whoooaah! I was so fast!," said Fu, according to The Guardian. "I didn't hold back... I used all of my mystic energy!"

That time earned her third place — a bronze medal — although she didn't realize this until a reporter told her.

"What?!" said Fu. "I came in third? I didn't know!"

Fu's glee at getting third place spread like wildfire, quickly becoming an the subject of hundreds of memes. People loved her and her reaction. (Not to mention how she continued to be awesome in the following days, like when she challenged taboos.)

But contained in all that joy might be an interesting lesson about how we think about our achievements.

Consider this interesting tidbit: A study from 1995 asked people to rate how happy Olympic athletes appeared at the end of their events and during awards ceremonies.

A medal ceremony in the Rio Olympics. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

Though you'd think happiness would rise with placement, the results of the study told another story. Although bronze comes below silver in the "rankings," people who got bronze medals at the Olympics were ranked as happier overall compared with silver medalists.

It turns out that the bronze medalists, like Fu, were happy to just get a medal.

The silver medalists, however, couldn't help but compare themselves to the gold medalists. That's what the researchers thought, anyway. Other researchers have suggested it was because the silver medalists had much stricter expectations.

Later analyses in the 2004 Athens Olympics seemed to reaffirm the happy-bronze/sad-silver dichotomy.

Basically, Fu teaches us that how we frame our achievements can change how we feel about them.

Photo by Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images.

Fu and other bronze medalists like runners Jenny Simpson and Andre De Grasse show us something important. How we think about a win might be more important than winning itself.

Though she mentioned the competition, she didn't dwell on it. Instead, she seemed to be focused on her own journey:

"I want to go back in time, to when I almost gave up, to tell myself that all of the hardship is worth it," she said. "Even though I didn't win first place today, I've already surpassed myself, and I am happy with that."

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Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

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