On smell

Smell seems to be the poor relation of our senses. Sight and sound are hugely well catered for in our modern information-overload society, our interest in taste keeps the catering business healthy (and contributes to the obesity “epidemic” and touch is pandered to by comfy chairs, leather steering wheels, cashmere jumpers and generally championed by touch-screen technology. But smell? That’s the poor relation we left behind.

Watch any dog or cat and you can see them revel in their sense of smell. The interest and enjoyment they show can be fascinating and makes me realise how much of the world we are missing. Dogs and cats have limited colour vision but compared to them we are so nasally challenged. We can all imagine and fear becoming suddenly blind or deaf but does anyone really worry about anosmia (with the obvious exception of those afflicted)? How many people even know the word “anosmia”?

It’s fairly often said that smell is the sense most closely linked with memory – a scent can evoke  times past with a vividness that surprises. I wonder why it is that a sense we find relatively unimportant can take us back to the past in such a dramatic way compared to our other senses? Perhaps it’s to do with not being able to remember a smell unless you’re smelling it. Trying to do so now, I find that I can remember how a certain smell makes me feel, but not how it smells.

Smells can have so much complexity. Without training in the perfume industry, who can identify all the different scents in a single brand of perfume? Perfume is only one of the many different kinds of smells we encounter in our everyday lives. Most people don’t have the vocabulary to describe the scents they come across and people don’t often discuss smells with each other, perhaps because people react in different ways to the same smell. I know people who are reassured by the smell of bleach whereas I find it makes me feel like I’m about to throw up.

I’ve known for a long time that if I am depressed and/or withdrawn my mood can be lifted by a pleasant aroma, say from a slightly more expensive hand soap or a perfume, even a scented lip-balm, so I have no trouble believing that we can experience positive effects from aromatherapy. I can use perfumes and aromas to make my life more enjoyable and so I have decided to champion my sense of smell, the underdog of senses!

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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