The Power of Smell

Welp, I’m feeling super adultish after my first condo association meeting. On top of critical discussions, like whether we approve a flower pot at the front entrance, there was a more fragrant twist.

In the midst of agreeing that yes, a single plant would do wonders for our curb appeal, my neighbor flipped on a miniature-looking humidifier on her countertop. The room instantly swelled with the sweet, clean scent of pine. I inhaled, suddenly recalling brilliant summers spent at a lake town in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, home of the Ponderosa Pine.

The sound of pine needles crunching beneath my clear jelly sandals (this is the ‘90s, people).

The taste of sour cream-and-cheddar chips that I munched on the dock.

The eerie feeling of seaweed tentacles sweeping the tips of my toes.

The sight of fireworks bursting above the turquoise water.

A miniature humidifier, it was not.

An essential oil diffuser, my friends. *Hand up if they’re new to you, too.*

For the next hour, the condo meeting turned into a tour of my neighbor’s essential oil election. We sniffed one by one, instinctively trading stories about the memories evoked by each.

Peppermint. AKA Pepto-Bismol, my childhood cure-all.

Anise, a sweet-smelling oil reminiscent of black licorice, which conjured up memories of gagging every time I’ve tried black licorice.

Bergamot, the extract of which flavors Earl Grey, my mom’s go-to at Christmas tea.

Research suggests that seeing ain’t believing, smelling is.

In one study, memories triggered by a smell, rather than a visual cue, brought about more activity in regions of the brain that process memories and emotion. These memories also provoked greater emotional response in the study subjects. “Odor-evoked memories” are actually more impressive.

Scent and emotional processing are so closely linked, that we may be able to leverage the calming effect of odors in the treatment of mental health conditions, or simply in finding inspiration in the world around us.

Seriously, people, my mom once dated a guy who wore a different cologne in every relationship. He said the scents inspired distinctive memories and complementary feelings (good…and bad, probably).

It’s hard for me, off the top of my head, to say what scents spark my memories. That’s the awesome part of this olfactory phenomenon. You’ll be somewhere trivial, like your first condo meeting, and suddenly the power of smell will send you afloat on a memory.

What scents take you back?

2 thoughts on “The Power of Smell

  1. The power of smell is real! I’m constantly sent back in time with scents. Every time I smell Aussie hair products, I immediately think of you 😜


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