The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Happiness is...a Beautiful Scent: Fireplace, Baby Powder, Christmas Tree.

Leading With A Nose!

Drops

Recently, I’ve become very interested in the sense of smell. This was partly inspired by my five-year-old daughter, who is a real “nose.” She responds more powerfully to smells than anyone I’ve ever met.

To learn more, I turned to Rachel Herz’s wonderful book, The Scent of Desire. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in this subject.

In discussing her surprising, fascinating argument that our responses to smells are learned, not instinctive — that is, nothing smells good (roses) or bad (rotten meat) until you learn that it’s a good smell or a bad smell — she mentioned Demeter Fragrance.

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Demeter Fragrance, Herz explained, is known for creating naturalistic, unusual perfumes, like Bonfire or Dirt. I was intrigued, so looked them up online.

I couldn’t believe it. What an astonishing array of scents! Crayon. Bamboo. Clean Windows. Dust. Bourbon. Cherry Blossom. Snow. Grass. Earthworm. Laundromat. Lilac. Frozen Pond. Gardenia. New Zealand. Steam Room.

At first I thought wistfully, “I wish I could smell some of these myself.” Then I realized — I could! I could buy some of these! They weren’t very expensive. One of my resolutions is to Indulge in a modest splurge. I knew the girls would love it, too.

I went a little nuts, I have to confess. It was hard to choose, because I wanted to try them all. Bonfire. Pure Soap. Salt Air. Bulgarian Rose, because I love the smell of roses, and roses are an auspicious motif for my happiness project. And I had to get Paperback, right? Our box arrived on Saturday, and we had so much fun testing the different fragrances.

I ended up liking the atmosphere sprays more than the colognes – maybe because they were more unusual. My favorites: Baby Powder, Fireplace, and Christmas Tree. Wonderful scents! In the cologne, my favorites were Wet Garden and Flower Show. Both flowery smells, except that...well, one smells like a wet garden and one smells like a flower show. Frozen Margarita cologne (a bonus scent) really smells like frozen margarita, but I don’t want to smell like a frozen margarita.

I always disdained “air fresheners” and only bought a scented candle after I was enraptured by a Jo Malone Orange Blossom candle at a party. I also thought a scent should arise naturally, from the appropriate flower or fireplace or actual baby powder. But since Saturday, I’ve become a true believer. My office smells like Christmas Tree! I love it. And while I couldn’t sprinkle real baby powder around our trash area, I love getting a hit of that lovely baby-powder smell when I put out the garbage.

I’ve never thought much about the sense of smell, but now that I’ve learned more, I realize how critical this sense is to our feelings of vitality and enjoyment. I’m doing whatever I can think of to eliminate the bad smells and appreciate the good scents in my life.

It's really too bad that the word "smell" is such an ugly word.

Are you affected strongly by smell – or not? What are your favorite scents? Have you found a way to cultivate an appreciation of them in your daily life?

* Leo Babauta, the founder of ZenHabits and Write to Done, and the author of The Power of Less, just came out with a terrific new book, Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction. A fascinating subject.

* Want a copy of my Resolutions Chart, to see what it looks like? Email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. Just write “chart” in the subject line.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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