A Little Happier: Which of the Five Senses Do People Most Often Neglect? The Answer Is Surprising

A while back, after I’d handed in the manuscript for my book Life in Five Senses, I got the idea to create a quiz that would help people to identify their most neglected sense.

Now, what’s a neglected sense?

Scientists have identified as many as 33 or 35 senses, but of those, five could be called the Aristotelian senses, or the kindergarten senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching.

As I was working on my book, I realized that of those Big Five, most of us have a few senses that we particularly enjoy, and others that we tend to neglect.

A appreciated sense is a sense that’s a great source of satisfaction and engagement. We pay attention; we seek out novel experiences; we’re interested in learning more; we swap recommendations; we enjoy reminiscing about our encounters with that sense.

A neglected sense is a sense that we least often turn to for pleasure or comfort. We probably don’t spend time exploring or cultivating it. We may be more concerned with avoiding the negative than appreciating the positive.

Once we recognize our neglected sense, we can use this self-knowledge as a shortcut to a richer life. We can find a new source of comfort, calm, and creativity; we can explore fresh experiences; perhaps most important, we can make opportunities to engage with other people.

It’s often hard to know ourselves, and it can be tough to identify our neglected senses. So I decided to create a quiz, the “What’s Your Neglected Sense?” quiz, so that people could easily figure out their neglected sense.

I worked with a brilliant team to make the quiz’s design very engaging, and it’s really fun to take.

Once I unleashed the quiz, I was so curious to see what results people would get. And I must say, the results are surprising.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that these results are scientifically valid. For one thing, what’s called the “selection bias” means that the people who have taken this quiz are people who are somehow connected to the work of Gretchen Rubin, and that’s not a random sampling of people.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people have now taken the quiz, and I’ve been fascinated to consider the results so far.

Here’s something that I didn’t expect to find.

I’d anticipated that some senses would be far more overlooked than others. But it turns out that for their neglected sense, quiz takers were surprisingly evenly divided among the five senses.

On the other hand, with the most appreciated sense, two senses clearly stand out–hearing and tasting. Which happen to be my own two most neglected senses!

Here’s something else that surprised me.

In humans, the visual system is the most highly developed, it occupies the most real estate in the brain, and if a conflict arises among the senses, sight usually trumps. I figured that just about no one would have “seeing” as their neglected sense. But they did! As I said, each of the five senses was fairly equally represented in the quiz results.

As I’ve talked to people who have taken the quiz, I’ve been very gratified to hear how useful they’ve found it. Just about everyone seems intrigued by their answer, and interested to find ways to tap in to their neglected sense for a happier life.

Some people tell me, “Oh, I knew what my answer would be.” Some have no idea!

How about you? What’s your most neglected sense?




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