We got interested in sense of smell because it’s a subject where Doug and I sometimes share differences of opinion. When I ask Doug if he smells what I smell, he says he doesn’t smell anything unusual. Obviously, sense of smell varies from person to person.
We realized sense of smell is important because it helps keep us safe, provides enjoyment and it also drives many of our choices, even when we don’t recognize it.
Where safety is concerned, sense of smell keeps us from ingesting all kinds of things that could make us sick. It also warns us to get out of the house if we smell natural gas. Natural gas would have no smell except a molecule is added to make it smell like rotten eggs. Other bad smells alert and protect us.
Smell also provides enjoyment. Think of all the scents to enjoy, like the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.
With every breath we take, sense of smell influences our choices. I went in to a women’s clothing store and it smelled wonderful. The owner had an infuser that filled the store with a scent that’s pleasing to customers and encourages them to stay and buy.
Wonder how we’re influenced by scents? A bit of science can explain. Scents activate the limbic system in the brain. That’s the area involved in emotion and memory. This “reward” circuit is also the same area that lights up for drug users. After the limbic system, the scent may be recognized by the cerebral cortex so words can describe feelings we experience. The key here is that we’re not always aware that what we smell is influencing our moods and our choices.
Let’s take a look at what we choose to buy, and we’re not just talking about perfume. What about everyday products? If you wonder how we all make some choices, it may be through the scents that we smell, often unknowingly. We buy the products because the scents trigger memories of pleasant situations and people we love.
What do you experience when you go shopping? We went to the grocery store where we saw many different scents in essential oils and candles. Those products are known to positively influence mood. There were also over a hundred different scents of laundry soaps. Tide, a long-time traditional bestseller in that category, often evokes pleasant memories for people. These memories are of childhood when they had the safety and love of family linked with the scent of nice, clean clothes.
Coffee flavors also showed up at the store in abundance. Flavor, it turns out, is the combination of taste and smell — and, surprisingly, 80% of the flavor that we taste is from the smell.
We decided to look at what scents evoke memories for us. Doug said that he likes the smell of new lumber because it reminds him of times when his dad and uncles would get together to build things on the farm. It was always fun and exciting family times. For me, I love the smell of lilacs, which is linked to happy times as a child living on a farm where we had many lilac bushes. Also, my mom wore a perfume that smelled like lilacs, so love and comfort are linked to the scent.
We wondered what smells brought memories for others. At a coffee shop, we met Alejandro and Alba Barreiro, Victoria residents. They shared what scents bring memories to them. Alejandro said, “The one (scent) that comes more to mind is rice and beans — very simple, but basically the memories of my grandmother and how she used to prepare rice and beans. My grandma’s from Brazil and it’s a place I always felt safe, welcome and loved. For me the scent of rice and beans brings me those very fun memories of my grandma.”
Alba Barreiro shared, “Coffee brings me a lot of good memories. My family always got together and anytime we wanted to chat, we always had our short coffee, espresso, more than these tall coffees. It brings me memories of my family gatherings.”
What about you? What scents evoke good memories for you?
Some thoughts: If you take time to notice a positive change in your mood, you may be able to trace it back by recognizing the scent that’s in the air. Then see what memories it triggers. Hopefully, as you become aware of the connection between scents and memories, you’ll be able to relive those pleasant times and good feelings from the past.