Is a Nudge a Good Thing? How We are Pushed to Make Choices

Is a Nudge a Good Thing? How We are Pushed to Make Choices
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We all make a lot of choices every day and it can be a very private issue but what if your decisions are based on something else?  What is it that we use to make choices? Better still, what is the benefit of making good choices and how are we nudged to make up our minds?  What is a nudge and do we even know when we are being nudged? These are important concepts that will help to inform what’s important to you and how you are helped to create decisions.


Values are with us every day.  Some people think of them as morals, but let’s look at values in a simpler vein.  A value is something we use to inform us how to think and behave. It can also direct us toward respect and how we use shared values in order to make up our society.  Generally speaking, the people we chose to be with—our community—will have similar values as we do. A value can be an understanding that there are different beliefs and we are okay with that, but we make a promise to ourselves and our community to work on truth-telling and in making good decisions.

We make decisions hundreds of times a day.  Without counting, the more simple decisions are: what to wear, what to eat, when to leave for work.  Many of these are frequent, everyday decisions so we do them on autopilot. By Rote. That is okay of course, but much of the day is not living up to its potential if we are just going through the motions.  And there are many influencers out there who are trying to nudge us into a different direction, but we’ll talk about that more later.


Clearly too, we are often influenced by the past.  And we may not even be aware or consider that. We also act on familiar stimuli in a different manner than to something that is novel, or new to us.  In our conscious minds, recollections are seriously underestimated, and scientists have known and experimented with the different ways that unconscious memories influence what we do, how we think, and what we feel.


There is a free class given by Yale University on the Science of Well-Being or, in reduced terms, Happiness.  We might think we know what makes us happy but many of us live in routine ways and we unknowingly create a list of “mis-wantings”—things we think will make us happy—but, which, in retrospect, (and by testing and survey) do not make us happy.

A good example of this is when we tell ourselves, “If I only had __________, my life would be so much better (of course you are filling in the blank with more money, a better body, a more beautiful face, a lover or spouse), all the choices we think will enhance our lives and take us out of the realm of wanting.  In fact, when people are surveyed and are known to have obtained these items or goals, it turns out, they are no happier than before. We could say that these mis-wantings are in large part, due to nudges.


For example, we watch television and unconsciously compare our lives to the shows on TV.  If we like or envy the characters—actors or “stars”—we try to emulate what they have, to make ourselves feel better.  We develop an unrealistic optimism about how our lives could be more like theirs. When it does not pan out, we experience a let-down.  As it says in the book, Nudge, “Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive feature of human life; it characterizes most people in most social categories.”  Generally, we are busy people trying to cope in a complex world. As a consequence, we can’t afford to give much weight to every decision we have to make.  With television or movies, we tend to project ourselves into these scenarios and there is a carryover effect: disappointment.

Who Nudges?

Politicians have been empowered to move people because there is no form of neutrality.

Advertisers, of course, nudge you into buying their product, but they also negotiate for “product placement” in grocery and retail stores too.

Educators will nudge in many ways: through sports competitions, with under-performing criticism, even with a status quo bias.

Architects will control your choices from phone service to the small print costs on contracts; everything you order, stream or buy often, architects tout the convenience of, whatever.

Health care workers seek to control from birth to death; their services offered are unending and rising costs to health care coverage and subsequent plans can hit the moon.

The point is: nudges are ubiquitous, they are everywhere all the time.  So, make sure to listen to the options, but exercise your right to make your own decisions, if possible.  That is what gives you freedom.


Choices are what we use to change actions.  Most of the time our choice is about what we like or dislike.  Of course, the right choice can make us feel good about how it affects us and for the most part, we should take the time to think about how it affects others as well.  The wrong choices can of course, ruin our goals, but we have the freedom to do that just as we have the freedom to better our future.

Many times, with life-changing or important choices, it would behoove us to seek advice.  Depending on our emotions though, even this option won’t always be exercised. We might not want to listen to others, really.  Feelings have a way of driving whether or not if we want to actually discuss something. Just realize though, a better choice might be in the offering.


Cavell-Clarke, Steffi. Making Good Choices. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2017. Book.

Raatma, Lucia. Making Smart Choices. New York: Scholastic, 2013. Book.

Reisberg, Daniel. Cognition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2018. Book

Thaler, Richard H. and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. New York: Penguin, 2009. B00k.

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