With the great amount of research that has been conducted on the subject, there’s no doubt that fragrances, or pleasant scents, can dramatically influence the human mind and emotions. This reality has been known for literally thousands of years. Greek physicians and philosophers mused over and wrote about the phenomenon as far back as 500 BCE, noting the emotional and mental effects of certain combinations of leaves and flowers worn as garlands.
What is immeasurable, however, is the influence different scents will have on each of us personally since we all experience our environment in unique ways. For some of us, the smell of lilac may have a calming effect, while the scent of cotton candy may inspire memories of a childhood adventure at the county fair. I know that the memory-sparking effect of some fragrances is true in my life every time I put one of my wife’s handmade orange creamsicle soy candles to my nose. The recollections come easily as I remember my Uncle Whit’s tiny store at the north end of Ford Street in the city of Ogdensburg, New York.
There was never much of anything on the dusty shelves save the bare necessities—cans of vegetable beef soup, singly wrapped rolls of toilet paper, bread, matches. I’m not sure why I remember these particular images, but they are forever woven with the picture of that ice cooler at the back of the store, the one holding the loose orange cream popsicles (in an era when you could still buy many items individually and not gathered or lumped together in a case, box, or bag for mass consumption). My little brother favored the rocket pops—rocket-shaped flavored ice on a stick colored red, white, and blue. But not me…
“What’ll it be, Doe-head?” Uncle Whit, snowy-headed and the size of giant, would ask loudly, even though I was already at the old cash register with nickels and an orange cream popsicle…which, of course, always leads me to the memory of the Red Man we got from the same store and the afternoon my brother and I spent vomiting behind Dad’s garage…but that’s for another day. Anyway, I love the smell of that orange creamsicle candle my wife makes, and everyday I take a good, long sniff of the one that I keep in my office, that I’m unwilling to burn lest I destroy the memory.
The point is simply this: Good or bad, scent affects our moods, jogs our memories of people, places, things, and experiences, and causes us to connect to a very ancient part of the brain that has already associated the fragrance to our personal existence before we’ve even identified the particular scent wafting into our nostrils. This is because our sense of smell is something like 10,000 times more powerful than our sense of taste. How? Our “olfactory receptors,” or smell receivers, are directly connected to the limbic system, which is not only the oldest part of the brain, but also the center of emotion. Only after the deepest parts of the brain are activated does the smell sensation travel to the cortex to be recognized as a familiar (or unfamiliar) fragrance. Consequently, our process of “smelling” is fascinating and the most intimately wired and powerful sense we possess as human beings.
Cheri VanWinkle, on her Colorado Adoption Consultants website, goes even further by relating scent identification and effect to children. Under her link to Country Wickhouse Candles she states:
Recent studies suggest that a newborn infant can recognize his mother’s milk from that of other women based on his sense of smell. In adoption, it is very important for your smell to be imprinted on his brain as his new parents. Pick a scent and stay with it so your child will associate that scent with the safety of being in your care. Candles are one of many ways you can do that!
What an amazing thought. Each and every one of us, from infant to grandparent, really should “stop and smell the roses” just to see how it makes us feel, what memories it inspires, and most importantly, what part of our personal existence it will reveal or to which it will forever link us.
So, keep smelling!
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