I don't think our sense of smell gets enough kudos. Sure, the sweet scent of a flower or of a fabulous meal can enhance an experience and the stink of a big fish can be the result of a successful outing or vacation. Terrible smells, such as skunk or rotten eggs, serve their purpose as well, helping identify potential danger or alarming situation. But there's more going on.
It turns out that the parts of the brain that handle smell, emotion and memories are closely intertwined. This makes smell the most directly connected of our five senses to specific memories. With emotions attached, they are very often happy or pleasing events that are quickly conjured up with a particular scent.
My own experiences bear this out. When I smell a vinyl record, I am immediately transported to 1969 and listening to a brand new 45 I had just purchased with my allowance, And When I Die by Blood, Sweat and Tears. I was sleeping over at my friend's house, his driveway, really, as we were staying in his dad's pickup camper.
The smell of processed film, the media we used in cameras before digital photography always takes me back to my grandmother's house when I was ten years old. She had just given me her Brownie camera, my first, and helped me load the film. Similarly, the smell of burning wood brings memories of the first time I took my kids tent camping over a long weekend up in Washington State. Happy memories indeed.
The smells of love are probably the most pleasing, with the scents of sweat, perfume, wine, or shared food bringing happy memories immediately to mind.
Here are some of the great comments I received regarding this topic (I've edited or paraphrased some):
BLSMSS- Actually mine is in the air. I love the smell of freshly cut grass, a day in September when it’s just a little crisp and you know fall is here, wood burning, you know it’s chilly or someone is having a campfire and the smell of pine trees. All this brings back many memories of my kids growing up and with good friends
Outofsightadventures- The smell of “beets” after it rains... I don’t know why it smells like beets to me, but it does and makes me happy nonetheless. Also the smell of a clean baby.... yummy!
Charles- The smell of rain on a hot summer day and fresh cut grass.
Lindsay (The Picturesque One)- Bacon frying. Need I say more?
Rick & Christine B.- I love the smells of a baby. That makes me feel that all is right with the world. The smell of fresh cut grass, or hay, or freshly turned earth makes me smile. Those are smells of my childhood. Spring flowers or the crisp morning air with a cup of coffee and a campfire -- I am grateful for all I have seen and experienced. May you all continue to be blessed with all the joy this world has to offer.
Jacki H.- We have a rhododendron in our front yard that has flowers with the most amazing scent and just walking outside in the morning, you can smell the sweet fragrance! It's even more impressive because most rhodie flowers don't have any scent, but this one with pale pink, almost white, flowers does and I look forward to it every Spring!
Nadyne H.- A smell that makes me happy every time is the smell of fine Mexican food cooking! Tacos, salsa, green chili.... all of it! Just typing this makes me remember the smells!
Andrea A.- The smell of lilac blooms tells me spring is here, and that's always so uplifting.
Patty B.- Oh, yes! The smell of orange blossom makes me very happy and an essential oil blend I use called Whisper. My favorites!
Matt D.- The Daphne blooming, planted around my office is always nice.
Habadabeer- As I attribute to my dog: “so many smells, so little time!” Where to start? How ‘bout campfire smoke? Now add a coffee pot on the grill, just finishing percolating. Pretty soon there’s sure to be bacon frying. That’s enough to motivate even the most timid camper to roll out of a sleeping bag and carpe diem! We’re currently traveling with my Dad who brought his bread maker along. Any time we have shore power, we have fresh homemade bread. The smell as it finishes baking is pure heaven! Another favorite for some reason is the smell of crayons. When I get a whiff, it’s just like a flashback scene in a movie. I’m 5 or 6 years years old, playing under the back porch in the height of summer, coloring with a broken red crayola. The detail is crystal clear, but without context. I have no idea what happens before, or what comes after this vignette.
Roger K.- Believe it or not the smell of cow manure makes me smile. There was a time when I had a small hobby farm and raised Black Angus. It was a very happy few years.
Becca R.- My happy smells are cookies or bread baking in the oven, fresh Spring blossoming flowers, a clean freshly bathed and powdered baby, and my Uncle’s cherry pipe smoke lightly mixing with the air around him...
I'll end this essay with a quote from the consummate American author, Helen Keller: "Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.