Tag Archives: senses

Cultivate Good Smells.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! This month’s theme is technically Memories, and last week’s resolution was to Make the most of your photographs, but I somehow got off my schedule, confusingly, so this week, I’m going back to March’s theme of Body to pick up a resolution — one of my favorites — that never got posted.

This week’s resolution is to Cultivate good smells.


If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Cultivate good smells.
Happiness is…a beautiful scent: Fireplace, Baby Powder, Christmas Tree.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
— On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click “Edit Subscription” and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or…
— Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

To get the audio podcast of the video:
— Log in to iTunes
— Go to “Podcasts”
— Search for “The Happiness Project.” Free, of course.

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.

“Wherever I Am in the World, All I Need Is the Smell of Eucalyptus to Recover That Lost World…”

“Wherever I am in the world, all I need is the smell of eucalyptus to recover that lost world of Adrogué, which today no doubt exists only in my memory.”
— Jorge Luis Borges

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of the senses, especially the sense of smell, in shaping our experiences and emotions.

* Join the conversation about happiness on the Facebook Page. Lots of interesting discussion there.

Happiness is…a Beautiful Scent: Fireplace, Baby Powder, Christmas Tree.

Recently, I’ve become very interested in the sense of smell. This was partly inspired by my five-year-old daughter, who is a real “nose.” She responds more powerfully to smells than anyone I’ve ever met.

To learn more, I turned to Rachel Herz’s wonderful book, The Scent of Desire. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in this subject.

In discussing her surprising, fascinating argument that our responses to smells are learned, not instinctive — that is, nothing smells good (roses) or bad (rotten meat) until you learn that it’s a good smell or a bad smell — she mentioned Demeter Fragrance.

Demeter Fragrance, Herz explained, is known for creating naturalistic, unusual perfumes, like Bonfire or Dirt. I was intrigued, so looked them up online.

I couldn’t believe it. What an astonishing array of scents! Crayon. Bamboo. Clean Windows. Dust. Bourbon. Cherry Blossom. Snow. Grass. Earthworm. Laundromat. Lilac. Frozen Pond. Gardenia. New Zealand. Steam Room.

At first I thought wistfully, “I wish I could smell some of these myself.” Then I realized — I could! I could buy some of these! They weren’t very expensive. One of my resolutions is to Indulge in a modest splurge. I knew the girls would love it, too.

I went a little nuts, I have to confess. It was hard to choose, because I wanted to try them all. Bonfire. Pure Soap. Salt Air. Bulgarian Rose, because I love the smell of roses, and roses are an auspicious motif for my happiness project. And I had to get Paperback, right? Our box arrived on Saturday, and we had so much fun testing the different fragrances.

I ended up liking the atmosphere sprays more than the colognes – maybe because they were more unusual. My favorites: Baby Powder, Fireplace, and Christmas Tree. Wonderful scents! In the cologne, my favorites were Wet Garden and Flower Show. Both flowery smells, except that…well, one smells like a wet garden and one smells like a flower show. Frozen Margarita cologne (a bonus scent) really smells like frozen margarita, but I don’t want to smell like a frozen margarita.

I always disdained “air fresheners” and only bought a scented candle after I was enraptured by a Jo Malone Orange Blossom candle at a party. I also thought a scent should arise naturally, from the appropriate flower or fireplace or actual baby powder. But since Saturday, I’ve become a true believer. My office smells like Christmas Tree! I love it. And while I couldn’t sprinkle real baby powder around our trash area, I love getting a hit of that lovely baby-powder smell when I put out the garbage.

I’ve never thought much about the sense of smell, but now that I’ve learned more, I realize how critical this sense is to our feelings of vitality and enjoyment. I’m doing whatever I can think of to eliminate the bad smells and appreciate the good scents in my life.

It’s really too bad that the word “smell” is such an ugly word.

Are you affected strongly by smell – or not? What are your favorite scents? Have you found a way to cultivate an appreciation of them in your daily life?

* Leo Babauta, the founder of ZenHabits and Write to Done, and the author of The Power of Less, just came out with a terrific new book, Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction. A fascinating subject.

* Want a copy of my Resolutions Chart, to see what it looks like? Email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. Just write “chart” in the subject line.