Smells ring bells

Helen Adams QuoteIn my last blog I mentioned that I would tell you more about our sense of smell and the Helen Keller quote I recently posted triggered me to get cracking on this latest blog post. Specifically, how particular odours can affect our mood and trigger memories.

Undoubtedly there are smells that will transport me back to summer of 2017 in the future, a reminder of our first year of trading as Harris-Williams. In early summer this was the smell of outdoor fetes and country shows, a mixture of cut (and wet) grass, cakes stalls, fried food, flower marquees and livestock. I shall never forget the particularly ripe smell I was presented with after my young daughter face planted in loose duck poo after falling off the hay bales in the show ring. In midsummer it would have be the smells of our trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to visit friends – which funnily enough will be dominated by the smell of the diffuser we took as a present – Jasmine and Orange Blossom. It was so powerful in the tropical heat and humidity, even in a large open plan apartment, but apparently it’s evaporating much more quickly than it would do in a more temperate climate such as ours. We also visited the island of Penang whilst on our trip and I’ll always remember the smell of the spicy street food, durian fruit and the salty smell of the sea and palm trees.

So how does smell work and how is it so strongly linked to memory and mood? I’m not a scientist but here’s what I’ve learned and condensed into a bite size chunk.

We can smell thousands, maybe even millions of smells that we identify using cells located in the nasal cavity. Microscopic airborne molecules are released by substances around us and some of them will have a stronger effect on the receptors. This explains why some smells appear more pungent than others and indeed, may smell differently to each individual. Temperature and humidity can also increase the volatility of molecules making the smell appear stronger. Cells in our nose send a message to the brain via the olfactory system. This system is linked to the parts of the brain where we process messages about the smells around us and are called the hippocampus and the amygdala, areas responsible for memory and mood. Messages are sent directly between these parts of the brain; hence, this is why certain smells can trigger a particular memory or change our mood. The smell of cut grass always uplifts my mood, reminding me of summer, my favourite season.

Making a snowman

The science behind it all explains why a  fleeting whiff  of the perfume Rive Gauche sends me right back to childhood and watching my mum get ready for a special occasion and the air of excitement surrounding it. I hope that my own daughter’s memories are triggered by smells too, maybe the smell of fresh snowfall will help her recall this snowman building we did a couple of years ago, the last time we had enough snow to do this! This brings me nicely to why I have to finish here and go back to getting our seasonal fragrances ready, one of which definitely reminds me of fresh snow called Winter White – look out for it when we launch it in October.

I’ve picked out a couple of the articles I’ve read about smell that I think are worth a read:-

This article from the Independent Newspaper explains why no two people smell the scent the same.

The smelling test: The genetics of olfaction

This article from How Stuff Works with a broader but simple explanation of the science of smell.

How Smell Works