What the Olympics Can Teach us About Happiness

I am obsessed with the big O! That’s right, I am a certified Olympiphile. My first professional haircut was a Dorothy Hamill. I remember the elated phone call from our neighbors in 1980, screaming that we had to turn on the TV to see what the U.S. hockey team was doing. In the summer of ‘96, when I was practicing law, working 80 hours a week, I still watched the games on tape every night when I got home, even at 2 a.m., and will never forget seeing Kerry Strug land on a sprained ankle to win gold for the U.S. team. My eyes are watering just typing that.

And one late night, during the midnight-to-2 a.m. broadcast of the 1996 games, the discussion on NBC turned to a paper that had been published a year earlier by the American Psychological Association, titled, “When Less Is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction Among Olympic Medalists“ written by Victoria Husted Medvec, Scott Madey and Thomas medals

Contrary to the obvious, this study showed that happiness among Olympic medalists is not as ordinal as one might think. The natural assumption would be that gold medalists are the happiest, followed by silver, then bronze, but it turns out, bronze medalists are significantly happier than silver medalists. Significantly.

The reason, the researchers concluded, was that a person’s happiness is relative to the alternate outcome. For a silver medalist, the alternate outcome is winning gold, but for a bronze medalist the alternate outcome is not winning a medal at all. This plays out over and over as you watch the games — the bronze medalists just look more jubilant.

In fact, this can also be seen comparing the unexpected bronze medal, like what the Swiss gymnast won on the vault, to the expected gold, like that of expected-victor Simone Biles, and worse, the slight disappointment of silver medalist, Maria Paseka. Yes, Biles was happy to win gold, but did you see Giulia Steingruber celebrate? That was the picture of pure Olympic joy! Winning her country’s first medal ever in gymnastics was far more rewarding for her than simply achieving what was assumed.

Somehow, bronze medalists see themselves as being one of the top three in the world, which is an amazing feat, but silver medalists see themselves as losing to just one person, that maybe on a different day they could have beaten — should have beaten.

We all do this, of course. We’re ecstatic about the 8 percent return on an investment, until we find out that the stock we didn’t choose did much better. Likewise, we’re twice as happy if we find out that the opposite is true, and the other stock tanked. Somehow, objective happiness — the pleasure we get simply from the outcome — is tainted by the potential alternate outcomes. “I could have done better” makes a great result feel mediocre, or even crappy, and “It could have been worse” makes an ordinary result feel like an immense victory.

I saw this recently while my husband and I were driving home from the movies. An SUV sped past us, not seeing the Highway Patrol car on our right. The red and blues came on immediately and tailed them all the way to the next exit, which happened to be ours.

The SUV exited, as required, but at the last minute, the CHP returned to the highway and sped off. We’ll never know if he got another call, or was just trying to scare them into slowing down, but as we pulled up next to them on the exit ramp (while they were waiting to get right back on the highway), there was sheer jubilation in that car. The driver and all the passengers were laughing, pumping their fists and cheering wildly, for obvious reason.

Even though they were slowed down, forced to exit and given a good scare, they were clearly much happier than if they had just been left alone to speed home. The alternate outcome they chose to see was getting a ticket, rather than the alternate outcome of just being free to drive on undisturbed, and in the face of that, they were seriously happy. What we compare our results to is always a choice.

So, with that in mind, the way to stay happy is to commit to looking at your end result as the best possible outcome, and think of the alternate as whatever would have been much worse. Never compare what you’ve got (like a silver medal) to what someone else got (like a gold medal), but rather, think of how astounding your final product is (like an Olympic medal of any color), and what it took to get there, and how happy it would make anyone else in the world who isn’t you right now.

In life, we should all go for gold, but enjoy it as if we won bronze. Or didn’t get a speeding ticket.

Go Olympians! Know that your whole country loves you, is beaming with pride, and will be happy with whatever you bring home, as long as it’s not the Zika virus.


Valerie Alexander is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer, and a former securities lawyer, investment banker and Internet executive. She now works with companies and organizations seeking to retain their top talent by making happiness in the workplace a priority and ensuring that female professionals are recognized and rewarded for their work. Her many books on Happiness, Success, and Success for Women can be found on, and she can be reached directly through her website,

Does Social Media Make You Happy?


Can you remember the days that your life was a complete mystery to your friends? Do you recall the days of recording your holidays by taking photographs and putting them into a physical photo album book? For a lot of people those days are gone, or for the younger generations have never existed. For many of us our everyday lives are uploaded onto the Internet. In this day and age where privacy is a different concept to what it was a decade ago we look at whether a person can be happy while living a very public life.


In many ways we are all mini-celebrities, our lives are up there on the web to be view, examined and, let’s be honest, to be judged. Every photo you post has become in many ways an advertisement of your life. The Huffington Post wrote how social media can hide signs of trouble. In their article they cite an ivory league student who presented the perfect life on her social media accounts but who unfortunately killed herself in 2014.


It is very easy to create a false persona on the Internet and maintaining the illusion of this identity can become an unhealthy obsession. In this case social media loses the social aspect of it and a person’s life becomes a glorified media advert. Individuals making a lot of money by making their private lives public haven’t helped this craze. This ranges from reality stars such as the Kardashians to Instagram users who make revenue through advertising.


The Independent recently touched on a study, which concluded that staying off social media sites such as Facebook made you happier. The researchers found that when asked to give a rating of their lives out of ten, the participants were happier away from Facebook.

It is not all doom and gloom with Facebook. There is research that does suggest that social media can make you happier. Time Magazine states that researchers found that positive posts on Facebook had a positive affect on people. James Fowler a professor of medical genetics and polities who ran the research argues that social networking is positive for our emotional states. Happy feelings can be spread.

Picture6 Photo:

Facebook is the world’s biggest social media site and will be for the foreseeable future. How has Facebook been able to dominate and influence our lives so much that we feel compelled to keep on posting on it? Financial trading website FXCM states that Facebook has thrived because its “corporate culture is based on the ability to innovate and maximize creativity.” This creative culture has made sure that Facebook has stayed ahead of its competitors in the social media world and adapted to both technology and people’s needs.


The answer to whether social media can make us happy can only be answered on an individual level. For some people like Alex Bastiras who wrote on The Advertiser about giving up social media life, he got to prioritize other things in his life. He found that he had more time to concentrate on his grades and spent more quality time with his friends. For others they find social media a comforting part of their lives knowing that their friends are just a click away.

If you find yourself obsessing over every photo you’ve posted, or worrying what people will say, or how many likes, then we suggest taking a step back. But if social media is just a useful tool to connect with people you care about then use it to make your life happier.



This is a guest post by Tom White. Tom is an online blogger who believes that maintaining a happy life is the key to living a successful and fulfilling life. His belief is that we need to adapt our lifestyles in a positive way to the modern world.

Race, Equality, Tantrums and Happiness

It’s Sunday night as I type this, and I am still struggling to process the fact that sometimes police officers shoot innocent people because of the color of their skin, and sometimes angry people shoot dedicated police officers because of the actions of other officers, and people I love and care about scream at each other online and in real life over it, and at least one friend was disowned by her family  — yes, actually disowned — because she tried to get them to see how things might look from the perspective of people who don’t look like them. It’s been heartbreaking.

But there is hope. So much hope.

The United States just celebrated our independence as a country, and now it’s time to re-up our commitment to a world where all men and women are created equal and truly have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Founders knew how important happiness is to the very core of our country. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I work so hard to proliferate happiness — because it is inextricably linked to freedom, love, equality, prosperity and everything else that makes life worth living.

And right now, we can be happy in the belief that the events of the past week are actually a sign of something amazing — as hard as that might be to see when we’re all so divided.

What’s happening in America is not because of increasing racial inequality, but actually, because of increased equality. Yes — despite how lopsided it still is, the races are more equal than ever. I’m not denying that it is grossly askew, but it is less so than at any point in history to date, it just doesn’t feel that way because so many of us never saw how truly bad it was before. Now we see it, now we know it, now we can’t deny it. But it is slowly, steadily getting more equal.

And for a lot of people, having their place of privilege slip away is terrifying and destabilizing, and it makes them angry. They see their higher status dying, and a tiger is fiercest when near death. That is what we’re experiencing now, and it’s very painful, but also so inspiring for what it truly means.

At every point in history, the ugliest violence of racism has always been a reaction to a huge leap forward. Malevolent hate groups like the KKK didn’t form until after slaves were freed. Violence and riots in the 1960s started after the Supreme Court desegregated schools in 1954 and buses in 1960. The current rise of anti-black, anti-immigrant rhetoric in this country has followed the election of our first black President. And all of those periods of unrest and anger were followed by a state of far greater progress. Not perfection, but progress nonetheless.

When I have a friend whose child is in the phase known as the Terrible Twos, I always assure them that this is the best thing that could be happening. Terrible Twos occur when the child transitions from a state of pure privilege, where parents are 24/7 servants, to a state of personal responsibility: of self-care and rule-following, and nobody wants to be forced into that. Who wouldn’t want to be catered to at all times, getting every need met at someone else’s effort? Terrible Twos are when a child rebels because his parents stop being servants and become authority figures, and he throws tantrums.

Our country is experiencing the tantrums of a large segment of the population going through the Terrible Twos — losing their exalted place of privilege and having to take responsibility for themselves in a world that no longer caters only to them. I don’t feel any more sorry for them than I would a toddler having to learn how to use a toilet, and for the same reason. They will learn. They will adapt. Their tantrums will pass. Peace will come. This country will emerge from our current state of conflict stronger, better and more equal.

I pray that no more lives are lost, but more so, I pray that the ones that have already been taken were not ended in vain. We can use this time to start important conversations. In these turbulent days, we can see each other as allies against inequality, not enemies trying to hold one another down. We can know that those of us fighting for equality are on a road to a better world — together. We can hold fast against the ones who want to cling to their old, inequitable ways, and stand up to anyone who would deny their fellow Americans that which makes us our greatest — the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We must love one another. We must see our fellow men and women as equals. Most importantly, we must strive to be happy. It’s not trivial. Happy people don’t hate. Happy people don’t discriminate. Happy people don’t rise by holding others down and don’t long for a day when they were given far more than their fellow man through no attribute of their own other than the color of their skin or the family they were born in.

Happy people are the core of the America our Founders envisioned.

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness.
We’re on our way…


Valerie Alexander is speaker, author and corporate trainer. She works with companies and organizations seeking to retain their top talent by making happiness in the workplace a priority and ensuring that female professionals are recognized and rewarded for their work. Her books on Happiness, Success and Success for Women can be found on, and she can be reached directly through her website,

A New 4th of July Tradition — Seeing the Serendipity


 Once again, on July 4th, I got an incredible lesson in the happiness of serendipity. This is quickly becoming an Independence Day tradition, I guess.

So many people wrote to remind me of last year’s jaw-dropping Fourth of July newsletter — the one about a slew of unconnected circumstances putting me in the right place at the right time to save a young girl’s life. This year’s story is not nearly so dramatic, but essentially the same thing happened again, on a much smaller and more intimate scale, but still…

I love going out to watch fireworks on Fourth of July! The festival we went to last year was amazing and it was happening again and I was really looking forward to it. Then, on Friday the 1st, we started hearing them. The pop-pop-BANG! of backyard displays. It was only a few little explosions that night, but by Saturday it got louder and my husband and I marveled at how many people bought these things and why were they setting them off now anyway? Then Sunday came — one full day before the holiday, and our typically quiet little neighborhood was starting to sound like a war zone. IMG_0091_2

At one point, I got up to go to the kitchen and Pepper got up to join me.

In fact, she clung to me.
That’s when I noticed the panting and drooling.

Our ever-stalwart girl was terrified.  

We’d never seen her like this, but then again, we’d never been home with her during heavy shelling. There was no question, the next night was going to be much worse, and we weren’t going anywhere. 

And I have to confess, I was a little bummed (and wracked with guilt over what the previous year may have been like for her).

Then — it happened again. The universe reminded me that I am always exactly where I’m supposed to be, whether it’s my idea or not.

Around 6:30, my husband got a text from a dear friend saying, “I know you guys must have plans tonight, but if you don’t, I really need to talk.”

Our plans were to sit home and do nothing. I was going to make a chicken caesar salad, but that and Netflix and hugging the dog were pretty much our whole agenda. 

We told him to come right over.

This is where no further details are required, except to say that he was right about really needing to talk. I was happy that we could feed him and be there for him, which I guess means I was happy that the dog was terrorized and that the fun festival was missed and that it turns out we live in one of those neighborhoods where people buy hundreds (maybe even thousands) of dollars of fireworks and just create their own displays. (Oh, and I’m happy — and stunned — that no one’s house burned down!)

For the second year in a row, on our nation’s birthday, I got to peek behind the curtain and see how all the strings connect. And I am once again reminded of what was hammered home last year:

#1 — the bad thing that is happening now might be the best thing that could possibly happen, and
#2 — just because it’s happening to you, that doesn’t mean it’s about you. 

Can’t wait to see what next year brings…

Hope you had a great weekend!
Thanks for reading this far. Here’s a cat video.

A Happy (Tasty) PSA!

Public Service Announcement — Don’t Miss Out on Fresh Fruit!

It’s summer! We are at the height of summer with its most glorious offering — incredible fruit! It’s so tasty and such a brief window that I occasionally (as in — most of the summer) wind up buying too much. That was the case this week, when the freshness overtook me and on Friday I realized we had apples, bananas, black cherries, rainier cherries, red grapes, cotton candy grapes, peaches, nectarines, pineapple and oranges in the house.

Did I mention there are just two of us? And it wasn’t like we had just one piece of any of this.

I also noticed that the peaches and nectarines weren’t faring so well as they ripened. They weren’t all that awesome to start with and now were getting too soft, with loose skin (wait, am I describing myself here?), but I absolutely refuse to let food go to waste (except my waist), so I looked in the cupboard and discovered a box of Krusteaz cobbler mix. Honestly, I have no idea where this came from. I never cook from a box. Luckily, it had an expiration date of 2017, so what the hell? I’ll try it.

We didn’t have enough peaches and nectarines for a whole cobbler, but luckily, we also had too much fresh pineapple, and the proportions were just right. The next part took under ten minutes:

  • Washed and cut up the peaches and nectarines and put them in a loaf pan
  • Placed an equivalent amount of (already cut) pineapple in the other pan
  • Added three tablespoons of sugar and two teaspoons of cornstrarch to each pan and stirred until coated
  • Made the cobbler topping according to the box (the mix + one egg, stirred ’til crumbly, divided evenly between the two pans, then drizzled with a stick of melted butter)
  • And tossed it all in the oven.

    Here’s what came out:


Oh, Dear Lord in Heaven, thank you for this bounty that is fresh fruit cobbler!

Luckily, we had some Caribbean Coconut gelato in the freezer for the pineapple one, and we have a little Donvier ice cream maker (really little — makes a single scoop of ice cream), so my husband quickly whipped up a small batch of vanilla ice cream for the peach (we didn’t have heavy cream, so he used half & half and condensed milk, which worked beautifully), and voila — no fruit thrown away (this week) and bad peaches put to good use. Also, five peaches and two cups of pineapple that probably would not have gotten eaten seemed to disappear in under 48 hours (I’m about to polish off the last of it as soon as I finish this post, so…healthy! Amirite?)IMG_3038

Part Two of the PSA — grapes freeze! In fact, frozen grapes are the ideal treat to take on a summer hike. They are cool and energy boosting right when you need them. And since Cotton Candy Grapes are only in season for two weeks, this is a great way to keep that flavor going for months (I’d say year-round, but they won’t last that long, unless you have a huge grape budget and an enormous freezer).

I hope you have a very happy, healthy summer. I hope you have a great farmers market, farm stand or green grocer who can provide you with the freshest picks of the season, before it’s all gone. And most importantly, I hope you’ll allow yourself to indulge in the amazing treats this time of year provides.

If you need an added boost of Happiness in your life, don’t forget to join the Speak Happiness mailing list for a monthly newsletter full of happy tips, stories, videos and freebies. And if you want more happiness brought to your community, organization or workplace, please visit the Speaker Page and see how we might work together.

Summer & Happiness go together like fruit, cobbler topping and ice cream. Be Happy!