Looking for happiness? Shoot for the bronze

Voices of Religion

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2004

Few things stir the heart like the Olympics. There, a lifetime of training condenses down to a few seconds of exertion, leaving victory hanging in the balance. A perfect dismount, a flawless vertical dive, a stretch of the neck at the finish line brings home the gold a victory for oneself, one's team and one's nation.

It is a celebration for the athlete and all those cheering him or her on.

How many times in the past month did you watch as our national anthem was played and our warriors stood to collect the gold medal?

Did you notice them fight, often vainly, to keep the tears of sheer joy from falling from their eyes? Did you imagine yourself standing in their place, with the gold around your own neck?

Now let me invite you to imagine this. You are there on the podium. The music's playing and the crowd's cheering, but you haven't won the gold.

Instead, around your neck is either the silver medal, second place, or the bronze medal, third place. If you were an athlete, which medal would make you happier?

The obvious answer, interestingly enough, turns out not to be the right one.

Victoria Medvec, assistant professor at Northwestern University, has researched the matter. Her conclusion is that bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists.

Listen to her surprising discovery: "Silver medalists think about what might have been. Bronze medalists think about how lucky they are to have a medal at all."

Astounding! Medvec realized that you can achieve more and enjoy it less.

The difference for the athlete is not success or failure, but the focus of the heart.

So it is for us as well. Our happiness is determined by the focus of our hearts.

In the game of life, some are silver medalists. The focus of their heart is on what they lack. They feel that no matter how close they come to getting what they want, they always come up short.

Forever dissatisfied, they keep their eyes on their neighbors and let their hearts fill up with envy and bitterness. One step behind the Joneses, they assume, incorrectly, that they will find happiness if they can just race a little faster and gain a step and a half.

That step and a half wouldn't help, however. Their wandering eyes would soon spot that other member of the Jones family that was two steps ahead. And of course, ahead of him is yet another and another and still another.

In the game of life, though, there also are the truly happy bronze medalists.

The focus of their hearts is on what they have. To them, all of life is a gift. They take seriously the words Paul wrote in the Message Bible: "Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing?" I Cor. 4:7.

So they not only enjoy the good things that come their own way, but they even get joy every time their neighbor wins the gold.

Their focus is off what lies around others' necks and what doesn't hang from theirs. It is the game that makes them happy, and the pure gift that allows them to compete at all.

So the choice is clear. The next time someone asks you what puts the bounce in your step, tell them you're running for the bronze.

Rick Cupp is a minister at Kenai Fellowship, P.O. Box 538, Kenai, AK 99611, 283-7682. Sunday services include Bible classes for all ages at 10 a.m. and worship at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday Bible classes and worship are at 7 p.m.

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