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Which Smells Do People Prefer?

How to manage a smellscape to boost wellbeing.

Image by monicore from Pixabay
Source: Image by monicore from Pixabay

In weeks we’ll be closing our windows for the season again. It will soon be winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it’ll be summer. Up north, we’ll be keeping our windows closed to keep the heat in, and in the South, windows will close to keep it out.

After the windows close, it will take a few days for the air in our homes to get stale and for us to begin to think fondly of air fresheners. What scents should you stock up on now, so you’re ready later?

When we’re in a place that smells “good,” our mood improves, and when that happens, we are more effective problem-solvers, think more creatively, and get along better with other people, for example.

But what smells good?

A space smells good when it smells fresh. “Fresh” is one of those sensory experiences we recognize when we encounter it but find it hard to describe in words. If you’ve started to open windows more frequently, beefed up your ventilation system, or are cleaning/replacing your HVAC system’s air filters more often—and you’re keeping up with the dusting, vacuuming, and mopping—your home probably is smelling pretty fresh.

Worldwide, people generally think floral scents smell good.

Each culture’s baking and holiday traditions also generate all sorts of odors that have positive associations and boost mood. In North America, for example, we link the smell of vanilla to baked goods we relish and the end-of-year holidays to cinnamon and pine. You link to a specific scent if you have a pleasant memory; smelling that odor will boost your mood. An example: If a jasmine vine encircled your grandmother’s veranda, and you had great times on that veranda with your relatives, smelling jasmine today will elevate your mood.

You bring several products into your home with a scent—even the unscented ones usually smell like something. Beyond keeping your house smelling fresh, you need to make multiple scent-related choices as you buy cleaning products, soaps, and so on.

What does the research say about the specific smells you should look for in scented products?

Now is the time to use the lavender potpourri you’ve been given over the years. Scientific studies show that the smell of lavender really is relaxing—and as a plus, it makes us more trusting, which is likely as important as relaxing us when we’re all spending a lot more time than usual at home, alone, or with a set of people whose negative attributes are becoming increasingly apparent. Not a big fan of lavender? Try the smell of oranges instead.

Want to feel more alert? Try smelling rosemary, grapefruit, or peppermint. A benefit of smelling like grapefruit: when a woman smells like grapefruit, men are likely to estimate her age as 5 years younger than she actually is.

In your home office, lemon is a good scent to sniff—it has been tied to enhanced professional performance. The cinnamon-sugar smells of cinnamon rolls have been directly linked to a boost in creative performance—you knew there was a good reason to bake cinnamon pastries.

Happily, probably, your nose is ready to go to work and do its bit to boost your wellbeing. Carefully manage the scents it smells to live your best life.

More from Sally Augustin Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today