Book Report: Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

I’ve just finished reading the book “Nudge” published in 2008. It was an eye opening book that discussed the fascinating topics of choice architecture, social science, the decision making foibles of everyday humans, and how well intentioned “nudges” can help improve society and life. Here’s how the authors summarize the book and define a “nudge”:

“Nudge is about choices—how we make them and how we can make better ones. Drawing on decades of research in the fields of behavioral science and economics, authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein offer a new perspective on preventing the countless mistakes we make—ill-advised personal investments, consumption of unhealthy foods, neglect of our natural resources—and show us how sensible “choice architecture” can successfully nudge people toward the best decisions.”

While these are lofty topics, the authors approached the subject in an easy to read and humorous way, and discussed many interesting real world nudge ideas along the way. Specifically interesting to me were the discussions regarding saving for retirement, reducing consumer debt, and improving health.

Most of the nudges discussed in the book are crafted in some way to help the status-quo-following general population; people who act in predictable ways, and often do nothing to help themselves or society in certain aspects of life. The use of choice architecture would likely help them avoid trouble, make good plans, and impose self control.

I found myself reacting to this book in a specific way as I read it: I was challenged – I realized that I strive to live a life that would only marginally benefit from planned “nudges.” Of course I can’t be 100% infallible, but I do attempt to optimize, employ strategy & critical thinking, and avoid following the herd whenever possible. I’d rather not be someone who can be lumped in with the often mindless public, and I’d like to be the outlier who doesn’t need the nudge.  I’m not sure how practical this is – it might be downright grandiose – but at least it’s a goal.  I think more than anything, this book reiterated for me this fact: nothing about how we live our lives has to be set in stone, and it can be beneficial and freeing to challenge things traditionally accepted as dogma. Instead of sitting around waiting for a nudge, why not actively improve your life through critical thinking?

I definitely suggest you check out this book from your local library if you haven’t already read it – it’s a quick read, and it’s pretty compelling.

What have you read recently? Do you have any book recommendations that have changed how you think about the world, or challenged you to live differently?

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