Have You Experienced Changes to Your Sense of Smell?

For my book about my five senses, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sense of smell. How I love the sense of smell! One of my favorite Happier at Home resolutions was to “Cultivate good smells.” It’s astonishing to me how much pleasure certain scents give me, now that I’ve tuned into them more forcefully. In the past, people often took the sense of smell for granted; because it’s invisible and  fleeting, it’s easy to underrate it. But smell isn’t just some sort of bonus sense—it plays a vital role in helping us to feel connected to others and to the world. These days, though, I think that people are far less likely to take the sense of smell for granted. Due to the pandemic, many people’s sense of smell has been altered or lost—temporarily or perhaps permanently. And because the sense of smell is crucial for the sense of flavor, losing smell also meant that food and drink lost much of their appeal. A friend temporarily lost her sense of smell from COVID-19. When I asked her about it, she said, “I felt claustrophobic. The world felt stale and airless, nothing registered.” (Thankfully, her sense of smell has returned.) During the time that she couldn’t smell, my friend drank a lot of kombucha, because it gave her some kind of sensations that registered. If you experienced a change to your sense of smell—whether from COVID-19 or for some other reason—what was your experience? Did you find any strategies to help register sensation (such as drinking kombucha)? If you’d like to read or listen to an engrossing discussion of this subject, I recommend “The Forgotten Sense: What Can COVID-19 Teach Us About the Mysteries of Smell?” by Brooke Jarvis in the New York Times. It explores our sense of smell, and how the coronavirus has affected so many people’s sense of smell—and how we’re now so much more aware of the value of this sense. (Thanks to the many thoughtful listeners who sent me the link to this piece, because they rightly guessed that I’d find it fascinating.) I’m a big fan of the writing of Leslie Jamison, and I was fascinated by her haunting account of losing her sense of smell from COVID-19. (Her sense of smell did return.) These accounts underscore how crucial our sense of smell is—to our sense of vitality and engagement.



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.