a woman standing in a field of flowers closing her eyes reflecting

How To Use Scent To Reflect On The Year

As we approach the end of the year, it gives us a chance to reflect on the past 12 months, to take inventory, and to identify what things made the biggest impact on our life.

When we think of reflection, we think of connecting with something we’ve experienced before. We revisit a moment in time, a feeling that resonated loudly, something significant enough that we can recall its existence.

Interestingly, the reflection is simply an image in our mind, a representation of the experience, a perception of the actual reality of what it was. And it’s mostly based on emotions - how it made us feel.

The benefits of revisiting experiences, whether mental (emotional) and/or physical (an activity, a location), are many. They can give us new perspectives and allow us to engage more thoughtfully.

The same is true for scents.

Smelling a familiar scent is a reminder of a previous time. A trigger for an experience we once had, coming into focus in an instant. And each time we smell it, we’re transported, but this time with new perspective that the subsequent years have provided.

And like reflection, a familiar scent makes us think about the significance of that moment and the role it played in our life.

So, why not connect the two.

Here are four ways you can use scent to reflect on this past year:



What sensory experiences from the past year stick out to you most? What role did scent play in particular? Your sense of smell is beautifully calibrated for emotional responses. How did a particularly positive experience that you can reflect on make you feel? When were you most happy over the year? Can you describe where you were when you felt so happy? What aromas can you associate with that happy moment?

Reflection exercise: write down 3 memorable scent experiences from the past year.

Maybe it was something you smelled directly, like a shared meal from a family gathering, the smell of the salty breeze hitting your face while walking along the ocean, or taking a hike in the woods while on vacation.

But it can also be an indirect smell, like the birth of a child, where you recall the smell of the baby’s skin as you hold her tight. Or perhaps it’s the first day of a new job and you recall the scent of the flowers outside the front entrance on your way inside.

These positive scent memories are something you can draw from in the new year. You can relive the scent memory (by way of an essential oil, perfume, herb, spice, etc.) anytime you’re feeling down, need a pick-me-up or change of mood.



The Japanese have a word for it: Mon-koh, listening to scent. When you purposefully, actively, smell something, you’re connecting with that scent. You take in the energy and vibration of the essence.

Focusing on something brings you into the present moment. It lets you pay attention and take notice of what’s right in front of you. You emotionally and physically respond to the immediate experience you are having. And all this will allow happiness into your life because you are engaging with your experience more fully.

Reflection exercise: pick one of the above memorable scent experiences from the past year and smell it mindfully. In order to do this exercise, you need to have access to the scent that reflects the scent memory. Maybe it’s a particular herb or spice from a meaningful meal that you shared. Maybe it’s a perfume from your vacation where you finally got to relax. Or maybe it’s a flower from an event you attended.

  • Close your eyes and relax your shoulders; breathe normally

  • Now focus on the scent that is diffusing in front of you.

  • Breathe in the aromatic essence you have chosen (short sniffs, not inhale)

Do these mental evaluations:

  • Mentally describe the character of the scent.

  • What color and sound is the scent? Make an association.

  • What exact memories does the scent recall?

  • What emotions do you feel?

  • How is your body responding to the scent?



A large part of reflection is having the ability to appreciate the experience you had. The fact that you can recall the moment means it was significant enough for you. Cherish that feeling the memory provides.

Appreciation informs health. In fact, there’s a connection between appreciation, emotional well-being and the heart. The Heartmath Institute in Boulder Creek, California has researched connections between the heart and emotional well-being. What they found was that a regular heartbeat – e.g., 60 times a minute – which has large and smoothly changing variation in intervals, changes your brain waves, activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, lowers blood pressure, supports the immune system, and has other health benefits. It also helps you feel more peaceful and happy and caring.

Reflection exercise: ask yourself what you’ve learned from the experience. Why are you grateful to have had it? Why did it matter to you enough that you could recall it? What stood out? How can the experience influence the coming year? What will you do as a result of the experience you had?



Go back to all of the scent memories you jotted down and review them one by one. Now that you have some distance from the experience, what new perspective do you have?

Does the birth of a baby make you want to focus more on family? Does a memorable vacation make you want to prioritize time off? Does the family gathering make you want to focus on seeing your loved-ones more?

Reflection exercise: set goals for the new year based on new perspectives gained.
Make a list of the scent experiences (refer to #1), identify what’s significant about it and articulate what you’re going to enhance, change or eliminate as a result of it.


Scent and your sense of smell can be a wonderful catalyst for reflecting on the past and setting goals for the new year. Let me know how it goes!

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