Tag Archives: Proust

Why the Smell of a Hallway Taught Me Something Important about Myself.

Yesterday, I went to the Panoply offices to record an episode of the Happier podcast in the studio there.

As I walked down the hallway to the water fountain, I was suddenly struck by a “Proustian memory” — a flood of remembrance triggered by a smell or taste.

For some reason, this hallway smelled exactly like the hospital where I worked as a candy-striper in high school. I hadn’t thought of that experience in years, and suddenly it came flooding back to me. (Gosh, what a funny term, I realize, so 1950’s–I just looked up the definition, and a “candy-striper” is a teenage girl who does volunteer nursing in a hospital. Yep, that’s what I did.)

And the strongest aspect of this memory was a sense of tremendous discomfort and a longing for release. At the time, I wouldn’t have said that I intensely disliked being a candy-striper, but looking back, I understand that I did.

I was constantly worried that I’d make a dangerous mistake (I didn’t realize that they never asked me to do anything that actually mattered). I wasn’t interested in medicine. I didn’t learn anything.

That scent in the hallway brought back so many memories…the cafeteria where I ate my lunch, the look of the elevators, the noises of the machines, the feeling of dread, all of it.

And those memories made me think of the Four Tendencies — after all, everything reminds me of the Four Tendencies these days.

I’m an Upholder, and we Upholders find it pretty easy to get ourselves to do things, even things we don’t particularly want to do.

This is one of my favorite things about myself. It’s one of my greatest strengths.

And, I’ve learned, it’s also one of my greatest weaknesses.

Sometimes I’m too good at getting myself to do things that I don’t want to do.  Even though I don’t want to do them, I push myself, instead of thinking, “Hmmm, maybe this isn’t what I should be doing after all. Maybe I should do something else.”

That’s what I’ve seen, more and more clearly, with the Four Tendencies — and with all aspects of human nature. Our strengths are our weaknesses. Our gifts come with a shadow side. The more I can recognize that in myself, the better off I’ll be.

How about you? Do you find that your strengths are the same thing as your weaknesses?

I continue to be fascinated by the sense of smell. So often overlooked, so powerful.

Speaking of the Four Tendencies…

Don’t know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel? You can take the Quiz here. More than 500,000 people have taken the Quiz.

–Are you as interested in the Four Tendencies as I am? Want to learn about how to harness it to manage yourself better — and to manage other people better?

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Go here or search “Better Gretchen Rubin” in the app store. Lots of info about the app here. And if you need accountability (Obligers!), you can join an Accountability Group within the app.

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Cultivate Good Smells.

One of my latest, and favorite, happiness resolutions is to Cultivate good smells.

I’d never thought much about the sense of smell, but after some research — and just paying more attention — I realize how critical this sense is to my feelings of vitality and enjoyment.

It’s a cliche to “stop and smell the roses,” of course, but just an hour ago, I had to make an effort to stop and smell the gardenia plant that my six-year-old and I walked past, on our way home from her kindergarten. The gardenia was sitting on the sidewalk, outside a flower shop, and when I saw it, I had to make the micro-decision: Stop or keep walking? I always hear a voice whispering, “Come on! Get this done! You don’t have time for that!” so I had to remind myself, “I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me. The smell of gardenias is one of my very favorite smells. There’s time to stop.”

My daughter and I stopped. The gardenia smelled lovely. So many flowers have had their scents bred out of them — so often hyacinths and roses don’t smell much — but not gardenias.

A particular scent can bring back memories with an intensity matched by few other triggers. In the most famous example, Marcel Proust recalled long-forgotten memories when he smelled and tasted a Madeleine biscuit soaked in linden tea; in fact, these kinds of involuntary and vivid rushes of memory evoked by the senses are called “Proustian memories.” Gardenias always remind me of my husband.

In my research, I was interested to learn that my happiness affects my sense of smell — and vice versa. A person in a good mood perceives a neutral odor (like rubbing alcohol) as more pleasant than a person in a bad mood, and doesn’t become as annoyed by bad smells; at the same time, smelling an enjoyable odor can help alleviate anxiety and increase tolerance for pain.

I’m doing whatever I can think of to eliminate the bad smells and appreciate the good scents in my life, and I’ve been surprised by how much richness and emotional texture it adds to my ordinary day.

Have you found any interesting ways to have more appreciation for the good smells in your life? Or any ways to eliminate bad smells? I’ve become much more vigilant about our trash area since I made this resolution.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* Sally Hogshead wrote a very interesting book, Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation — and she’s created a terrific, quick personality test, the F Score, to measure “How are you fascinating?” I can never resist a great personality test.

* Is your book group reading The Happiness Project? (I know a lot of groups were waiting for the paperback release.) I’ve prepared a one-page discussion guide for book groups, as well as a guide tailored for church groups, prayer circles, spirituality book groups, and the like. If you’d like either discussion guide (or both), email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. (Don’t forget the “1.”)

Also, if you’d like free personalized bookplates for your group (or just for yourself or for a gift), email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com, and let me know how many you’d like, what names you need, and your mailing address. I’ll mail them anywhere in the world.