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.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.