Have you seen those television commercials that say something along the lines of “you may think you’re masking your cat’s odor but when guests come over they smell this” and then the small cat on a sofa becomes a giant cat-shaped couch? Eeewww! Pee-you!
It’s all about that smell. That powerful function of our nose is one of five ways we connect with the world around us and it influences our lives in ways we may not even be aware of.
Thankfully I don’t have any friends whose houses smell like giant cats, but if blindfolded and taken to several of their homes and asked where I was, I could probably figure out whose just by the unique smells their homes have. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean this in a bad way. In fact, I often wonder if my house has “a smell,” and if so, I hope it’s a good one!
I love candles, (particularly lemon-verbena, vanilla, or red currant) and I almost always have one burning in my house. You may also love candles but unless I know what scents you like, I really shouldn’t buy one for you, even as a gift. Why? It’s all about that smell. Like perfume, scented candles are very personal. Buy a scent that someone doesn’t like and you might as well buy them a trip to the dentist. They won’t like it. Buy them a scent they do like however, and you will come out smelling like one rose of a gift giver.
Just this week I was visiting with a co-worker and she mentioned that when she sprayed her perfume on that morning she thought of me because I always compliment her on how she smells. I could probably smell that cologne 10 years from now in a far-away place and I will think of her. I also have a friend of nearly 20 years who has used the same fragrance for the two decades we have called each other friend. In my mind, and my daughter’s for that matter, her perfume is hers alone regardless of its global marketing reach. That’s how smell works and it’s amazing.
Still not convinced? Okay, Exhibit B: recently I placed a small tube of lotion next to my bed to use at night because my hands have been so wintery dry. The first night I used it, the smell reminded me of something so vivid it made me crazy trying to figure out who or what. Then, it hit me. The small tube was the “travel lotion” I took to Rome last summer. To this day I can close my eyes, smell that smell, and literally visualize me and Kristen in our little hotel room near the Vatican. Such enormously happy memories coming from a small drug- store bought tube of hand cream, albeit a tube I will probably never throw away now!
I am not alone. The smell of something brings back memories for nearly all of us and can even influence our moods, work place productivity, and personal lives. It is all about that smell, but it’s also all about how intricately our noses and brains are intertwined. Quick anatomy lesson: the brain’s olfactory bulb transmits smell information from the nose to the brain. The olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, which is closely associated with memory, and it has direct access to the amygdala, which processes emotion. It’s also closely related to the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. End of lesson. Crib notes would state that your nose smells something, the brain tells you that smell reminds you of something, and you go “uh-huh!” It’s not brain surgery. It’s all about that smell.
Mind blown. Literally bind blown.
Not everyone likes or dislikes the same smells and some don’t like scented things at all. A very good friend of mine detests it when someone wears perfume. Me being the lover of perfume that I am, I always need to keep this in mind when getting together with her.
Perfume is something that, even if I’m dirt poor, I would hope to be able to afford. And for good reason. Growing up my mom always had lovely bottles of perfume perched like little trophies on a bathroom counter mirror and would wear some when she and my dad went out. Childhood visions of her all dressed up and looking glam rubbed off on me in that I relate perfume to happiness and joy. Ironically, Jean Patou’s “Joy” was always her favorite perfume.
I Smell a Rat
It’s a two-sided atomizer though, and we’ve all been there and hated that. The plane ride next to a fellow passenger drenched in a scent that nauseates you. The whisper or hug from someone with bad breath. The packed movie theatre and sitting adjacent to someone with the dreaded B.O. That, however, is pretty much disliked by all, as is smoke, sour milk, and Limburger cheese.
Still, researchers have found that perception plays almost as big a role in smell as reality. Say what? Well, apparently an English psychologist labeled a Brie-like scent as both “cheddar cheese” and “body odor.” He had participants smell the scent and then say if they liked it or not. Test subjects rated the odor higher and more pleasant when it was identified as cheese. Shocker!
The sense of smell is probably more closely linked to memory than any of our other senses and because we encounter most new scents when we’re young, smells often conjure up childhood memories. That explains it!
Chlorine from a swimming pool? I immediately think of the Municipal Swimming Pool in my hometown of Santa Fe, NM.
A new can of tennis balls? I’m right back where I learned to play tennis as a child: the black-top courts near downtown in Santa Fe.
Ralph Lauren’s original red-bottled cologne? College.
Smell is highly emotive and extremely important when it comes to the attraction of two people and the hiring of employees. Come reeking of body odor and you probably won’t get the date or the job, but enter free of offensive smells and your odds of getting a call back and the girl increase maybe not sharply but perhaps slightly. You could say “by a nose.”
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning” is one of film’s most famous quotes. I certainly don’t agree with the “Apocalypse Now” line, but I do love the smell of rain and freshly mowed grass, rubbing alcohol and gasoline, Play-Do and Easter lilies. I’m not a big fan of anything lavender scented and I can’t stand the smell (or taste) of cilantro. I enjoy “new car smell” as much as the next guy but I don’t really fancy car air fresheners.
What about you? What smells do you love? Which ones do you abhor?