A woman smiling happily

What Essential Oils Can Make You Happy

We all have those days where we just want to crawl into a corner and make it all go away. The stresses of balancing work, home and family are constant for many of us and adding the unexpected event on top can make it all feel, well, a bit too much. 

Here’s the good news…

You’ve got a friend and ally in essential oils. They can be a great support in providing a little pick-me-up on those days when you need some sunshine in your life. You see, the aroma of essential oils can trigger positive (and negative!) responses in the brain which, in turn, affect your mood.   


But, there’s no prescription for happiness… and that includes essential oils. 

It’s personal.

How your brain responds to odors it comes in contact with is a completely individual experience. 

From the moment you’re born, your brain is gathering sensory information from your surroundings. It’s taking in information and mapping it in your brain all day, every day. Your world is shaped by where you are and the experiences you’re having. That’s unique to every single one of us. Our perception is our reality.

But your sense of smell is special. And it’s why essential oils can be so helpful.

It’s all in your head.

You see, your senses of hearing, seeing, tasting and touching send their sensory information to the brain at the thalamus first. The thalamus acts as a sort of “executive assistant” which screens the sensory information and decides where in the brain the information should be processed. That takes time - split second time - but nonetheless time.

Your olfactory (smell) receptors, on the other hand, bypass the thalamus and send signals directly to the olfactory bulb. Your olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, which is the system that processes emotions. 

Zoom. No executive assistant screening, just right to the emotional processing centers. 

The olfactory bulb connects to the hippocampus where events and experiences are processed into memories, and to the amygdala which is responsible for the response and memory of emotions.

Because of this direct connection to these emotional processing centers, smelling an essential oil is able to produce a stronger trigger response than anything you see, taste, touch or hear. 

So, depending on your life experiences, your response to the aroma of an essential oil will vary. 


Here are 3 ways you can determine what essential oils will uplift your mood:


  1. Take a mental inventory of the first 10 years of your life. Your scent memories are shaped in the first decade of your life. The odors you took in those days, months and years are stored in your olfactory memory bank. Think about the trees and flowers outside of your home, in your neighborhood. Maybe a lemon tree, apple tree or pine tree. What foods did you eat? Was there a certain spice or herb that your mother or grandmother used regularly. Most likely smelling an essential oil (like lemon, cinnamon bark or pine oil) linked to these childhood aromas will give you a positive emotional response.

  2. Be mindful of your body language. When we take in an odor, your brain processes the information quickly and triggers muscular responses accordingly. That means that when you smell an essential oil your body will immediately react. Notice if your body gets tighter (retractive) or your shoulders go down (expansive). Let your body be your guide in helping you decide which essential oils will uplift you.

  3. Be open to new, unfamiliar, essential oils. We tend to go back to the same 2-3 essential oils again and again. That’s fine. It’s familiar. But try expanding your horizons. Give yourself the chance to smell new scents. You’ll be surprised to find that some of them might actually be “familiar” and trigger a very positive response. 

How can that be, you ask? Well, it goes back to those first 10 years. Even if you can’t remember that you smelled something, your brain never forgets. Have you ever found yourself saying “this smells so familiar, but I don’t know why”? 

For me this happened with Plai essential oil. I’d never heard of it before, but as soon as I smelled it, it triggered the warmest, happiest feelings. It’s from Thailand, far away from where I grew up, but most likely there’s a chemical component in the essential oil that’s similar to something that I grew up smelling and that has a positive association. I’m still trying to figure out what the connection could be, but for me it’s my go-to uplifting scent right now. 


And, once you know which essential oils uplift you, here are 4 ways to apply them:

  1. Diffuse the essential oil in a designated room for 10-15 minutes. As I said above, aromas are personal. What feels right for one person, may not feel right for another. So, instead of diffusing the essential oil in the living room where everyone convenes, pick a smaller room that you can claim for 15 minutes. Maybe it’s your bedroom or a home office space. Wherever it may be, sit here quietly (with a cup of tea or a good book) for just 15 minutes while the scent surrounds you. Take it in. It will uplift, and in turn, it will calm you.

  2. Drop the essential oil in a personal inhaler. This is one of the most underutilized applications on the market. This personal aroma stick is a “diffuser on-the-go” and a great way to take that uplifting scent with you to work or on the plane, for example.

  3. Add the essential oil to an aromatherapy jewelry piece. There are so many wonderful artisan jewelry designers that offer bracelets and necklaces with lava beads where you add a drop of essential oil and carry it around with you all day. One of my favorite designers is Follow Your Bliss bracelets.

  4. Diffuse the essential oil in your car. There are a number of essential oil car diffusers on the market. This is a great way to add a little happiness to your work commute or when running errands. Diffuse for just 5 minutes, then take out, and you’ll be energized for the ride. 


So, the next time you read, or hear someone say that this or that essential oil will make you happy,  remember that it actually might not be true. Scent is personal. Decide for yourself what makes you happy. After all, half the fun is smelling what that may be. 

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