As I prepared to write my next blog, this one on the powerful effect of various smells on my mood, I happened upon an article on Yahoo! Health that beat me to the punch. The article was 7 tips to get you out of a bad mood (I’m always looking for advice on this one) and number 6 begins: “Research has shown that smell has a definite impact on our bodies and minds. When you stimulate the olfactory nerves inside your nose, you activate the limbic system of your brain, which is associated with moods and memory.” Now, it’s common knowledge (or my knowledge) that smell is the sense most capable of evoking memory. But I decided today that it is also the sense most capable of changing my mood in an instant. Less than an instant. Before I even know what has happened, I’m either full of joy and peace and warmth or I’m fighting anger, despair and frustration. I have several examples of scents that bring me to a good mood and one particular conglomeration that evokes the bad.
Smells of joy:
- The air during and right after the rain. If you are lucky, this smell even appears before the rain begins. I’ve found that this scent is not the same in every city and it seems to be especially lacking at my new house. There is a sort of dank, moldy smell after the rain here. But in Colorado, this smell (along with most things) is perfect.
- The smell of baking. It typically doesn’t matter what is baking—crescent rolls, scones, brownies, cookies, pecan pie, any pie really, cake, bread…you get the idea. It just has a way of lifting my mood. It could be a Pavlovian effect; I do love eating the baked goods as much as I enjoy smelling them. But not eating doesn’t take away the power that the smell has over my mood.
- Flowers. I love flowers. And I especially love the smell of roses. That sweet scent that has so many different nuances depending on the type of rose. Other flowers are pleasing to my olfaction (is that a word?), but none so much as the rose. I love to look at them too, double whammy! (This is a hint for any who would debate the wisdom of buying me flowers)
- Horses. I know that this is starting to look like the same top five scents that I posted on my 10-second interview, which actually took a lot more of my time than ten seconds. But they are my top five for a reason. I don’t know what it is about horses that smells pleasing to me. I do know that I enjoy the scent of the grain feed (the corn/oat/barley type mixture), and I like the smell of hay, but I also think there is something about the horses themselves that smells like cowboys and long days in the sun and dusty trail rides and hard work and gorgeous sunsets. It’s no wonder that smell could immediately lift my spirits.
I can’t remember my fifth favorite scent right now, but it really isn’t necessary to grasp my point. Each one of these smells has an incredible ability to make me feel right at home. They are comfortable, familiar, all associated with many positive memories. And it may not improve my mood for very long (especially if I’m already in the dumps), but it does cause immediate joy.
On the other hand, and I won’t spend too much time on this because I don’t want to be in a bad mood just thinking about it, I’ve noticed that pretty much every smell at a hospital is enough to keep me depressed and angry for much of the day. I could be excited about getting to leave early, or fulfilled by a fruitful conversation with a patient, or comforted by a friend I wasn’t expecting to see that day, and it’s all wiped off the slate with one whiff of illness/bodily fluids/hospital food/industrial-grade cleaner/etc. It is different every day and so much exactly the same everyday that I feel my mood plummet when I step onto 5200 or 4100 (usually one of these is my first unit of the day and first after lunch). It’s sad, really, how much I let it affect me. But I decided today that it’s not completely my fault. The sense of smell is just that powerful. I shouldn’t be surprised to find that if it can raise my mood so instantaneously, it could also send it spiraling downward.
That’s all the energy and time I’m giving bad smells. Oh, my fifth happy smell was coffee. And it’s ironic that it’s the one I forgot given that I’m drinking some right now. It’s cold after 30 minutes of typing and has lost the invasive aroma. I’m gonna go nuke the last few sips and savor the smell (not quite as potent the second time around, but it will do).