5 Reasons to care about your sense of smell
Before we are even born, while we are in our mother’s womb, we are already developing our sense of smell. Research has shown that a fetus may be able to smell as early as 6 months. And by the time the baby is born - the day she is born - she can already recognize her mother, simply by her smell. The sense of smell is one of the first senses to be stimulated in a baby and helps direct her in her new environment in the very first days.
In fact, our two chemical senses - smell and taste - were the first to appear when we were single cell organisms. They helped us navigate the world, find our food and reproduce. These senses were vital, they were everything, yet today our sense of smell is mostly neglected. We take our nose for granted, passively inhaling and taking in cues from our surroundings simply to get through our day. If we do happen to recognize our nose, it’s to fleetingly take in a pleasing scent while cooking or lighting a candle, or maybe even wearing a perfume for effect. In the end, we don’t think about it much, we just do it. It’s what we’ve always done, since the day we were born.
But what if we could do more. What if we didn’t have to take this attitude of just accepting what has always been. What if we made a mental mindshift and moved from passive smelling, to active smelling. What if we made a conscious effort to move from a place of complacency - where we just breathe in because we’ve always breathed in - to a place of humility - accepting with honor that we have this gift, and actively think about using our sense of smell to really help ourselves be well. We don’t even have to buy anything, we just simply have to do it - mindfully.
It’s interesting because the definition of complacency is rooted in a sort of arrogance - a presumption if you will - that we can smell, it just is, so why care. But there are millions of people who can’t smell, who have a condition called anosmia, and who would give anything to have this vital sense that we so egotistically take for granted. And if we choose to come from a place of humility and be grateful for our sense of smell, we can harness it for good in ways we never imagined.
Below are 5 reasons why you should care and be mindful of your sense of smell.
IT GIVES YOUR LIFE DIMENSION - when you passively smell the world around you, it makes your experiences fade in color, they appear more grey. They lose texture, they feel more dull. They lose vibration, they feel more stagnant. They lose freshness, they feel more stale. Actively using your sense of smell makes all your other senses more intense, more alive. Your experiences are more pronounced, because you are more aware of them.
IT GIVES YOUR FOOD FLAVOR - think about those times when you have a cold and nothing you eat tastes good; you lose your appetite and you become sluggish from not eating much. That’s because the air is blocked from traveling from your mouth to your nose easily. You’re left only with your sense of taste which gives you a measly five sensations - salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. But beyond taste - perceiving flavor - is due to your sense of smell. It is estimated that you can perceive more than 10,000 flavors with the help of your sense of smell. That makes eating food exciting and pleasurable. And you’re more likely to eat a healthy meal when you perceive it to be enjoyable.
IT GIVES YOUR LIFE EMOTION - our sense of smell is the only sense that is directly hardwired to the emotional center of our brain. Research has shown that there is a unique connection between a part of the brain called the amygdala and how we process smell. The amygdala is responsible for the experiencing of emotions. It also plays an important role in the response and memory of emotions. We all have a particular scent that evokes a personal memory. When you think about it, how does it make you feel?
IT HELPS MAKE YOU UNIQUE - every single person has their own unique sense of smell. From the moment you are born, you are perceiving the world around you. And every day - all day - throughout the years of your life, you are taking in olfactive (scent) cues that are being sent, processed and stored in your brain. You may notice that two people can smell the exact same thing, but our perceptions about that odor may be vastly different. This is why some people love the scent of lavender and others don’t. It all goes back to the sensory experiences they’ve had with that odor in the past and the memories - and emotions - that are evoked.
IT PROTECTS US FROM DANGER - our sense of smell is the only sense that simultaneously reaches two parts of the brain. All of our senses send information directly to the thalamus in the brain. But our sense of smell uniquely - at the same time - delivers information to the cerebral cortex, our “thinking” part of the brain. This duality allows us to instinctively react to an outside stimulus while also perceiving and thinking about what to do. So we can quickly react to the dangers of the smell of smoke from a fire, the odor of gas or the sign of decaying food to prevent bodily harm. We are safe.
So, now that you know how important our sense of smell is, here are two things you can start doing today to actively and more mindfully use your sense of smell:
Exercise your nose - smell the world around you. Research has shown that when you actively sniff, you restore lost olfactive neurons. If you consciously smell things, you are training your brain to make scent memories. The more you recall, the richer your life becomes.
Look around - make connections with your environment by smelling it. The more you can make associations with scents, the better you can distinguish them in the future and the more you can articulate what you are smelling.