Do You Have “Foreground” Senses and “Background” Senses?

Woman looking at painting on museum wall.

I’m working on a book about the five senses—what a joy it is to work on this project!

As I started my investigations, I noticed something about myself, and I wonder if the same observation rings true for others.

It seemed to me that I could divide my senses into “foreground” senses (the senses that I noticed most and that gave me the most pleasure) and “background” senses (the senses that didn’t grab my attention and weren’t major sources of pleasure for me).

When I started my project, my two foreground senses were sight and smell. My background senses were hearing and taste—and, I thought, touch. One thing I’ve learned from this project is that I’m far more attuned to touch than I’d realized.

One aim of my project is to pull all five of my senses into the foreground. I’ve made a big effort to pay more attention to hearing and taste, and this change has really boosted my sense of vitality and engagement.

How about you?

This question raises the issue of: What puts a sense in the foreground or the background?


  • Do you find special pleasure in that sense?
  • Do you spend more time exploring or seeking out new sensations related to that particular sense?
  • Are you curious to learn more about that sense?

What else might distinguish a foreground sense from a background sense?

But perhaps I’m wrong that people tend to have “foreground” and “background” senses. Please let me know your experience!

Do you have foreground and background senses, and if so, which ones? Has a sense ever shifted from background to foreground, or foreground to background?



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.