"Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin
In today's guest blog, Gretchen Rubin talks about appreciating the olfactory—both the good and the bad. Gretchen's book Happier at Home is available now on Kindle Post.
Of all the new resolutions I've adopted as part of my efforts to be "happier at home," one of my favourites is the resolution to "embrace good smells". It's surprising to me how much pleasure my sense of smell gives me, now that I've tuned into it more fully.
My interest in the sense of smell was inspired partly by my young daughter, who is a real "nose". She responds more powerfully to smells than anyone I've ever met. She's entranced by smells that I take for granted (like the fragrance wafting from carts selling roasted nuts on New York City street corners), and she's repulsed by smells that I can hardly detect (for years, she cried every time she had to ride in a car, because she hated the smell).
When I did some research on the sense of smell, I learned some interesting facts. For instance, our responses to smells are learned, not instinctive--that is, nothing smells good (lilacs) or bad (rotten meat) until you learn that it's a good or bad smell. The average person can recognise about ten thousand odours. A particular scent can help recall memories with tremendous intensity; the rush of long-forgotten memories experienced by Marcel Proust, after he smelled and tasted a madeleine soaked in linden tea, is the most famous example of this phenomenon. A friend recently had a similar, but much less pleasant, rush of memories after she rode in an elevator with a man wearing her ex-boyfriend's cologne.
Now that I've learned to pay closer attention to my own experiences, I realise how much the sense of smell contributes to our feelings of vitality and happiness. In fact, although we often discount the importance of the sense of smell in contrast to our other senses, people who suffer from anosmia (loss of the sense of smell) often become depressed; they lose interest in food and sex, have difficulty sleeping, and feel disconnected from other people.
To keep my resolution to "embrace good smells," I'm doing whatever I can to appreciate beautiful fragrances. I buy and wear perfume much more than I used to do; I put it on several times during the day, though of course I work at home so don't have to worry about bothering my officemates. I used to scoff at scented candles; now I love them. I collect the naturalistic, almost eerily accurate, fragrances created by places like CB I Hate Perfume and Demeter.
Most importantly, I pause during the day to notice and enjoy the ordinary, delightful smells of home, such as grapefruit, coffee, fresh laundry, nail polish, vanilla, and my husband's shampoo.
And I'm much, much quicker to take out the trash.