From taking you back to a place you visited long ago to reminding you of a certain person, our sense of smell can trigger even the most distant memories.

Our sense of smell subconsciously works on a daily basis. Realistically, it’s on a secondly basis, as it works around the clock. That smell of freshly baked pastries that you lustfully inhale on your way into work every morning. The scent of strong coffee brewing in the cafetiere in your Saturday morning kitchen (it always smells better than when you’re sat at your desk). The tranquil smell of your face cream that makes you feel that little bit better before you start your day. Perhaps it’s simply the natural, comforting scent of a loved one. Our noses are always on the go, and more often than not, they provoke a sense of nostalgia.

Have you ever smelt a fragrance that you used to wear back when you were a teenager? Chances are, you were instantly taken back to that party where you snogged that guy you used to really fancy. The reason for this (other than a gentle reminder that your taste in men got better with age) is that our sense of smell is very much linked to our memory and emotive sensory system. We spoke to Nick Davies, a leading UK Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist, about the reason why our scent sense is so evocative.

He explained that it’s all to do with the part of our brain that scent goes to. “Dependant on the incoming stimuli, our unconscious responses will differ; our oldest sense, the sense of smell is the only one that bypasses the thalamus and goes straight to the cortex or amygdala, which is part of our limbic brain responsible for threat detection and response, dependant on whether it is a perceived threat or not.” He pointed out that:

this is why smells remind us directly of the first memory that was laid down,”

Davies went onto explain, “so if it was a bad memory, we’ll associate that smell with a bad emotion, for example somebody who can’t stand the smell of Malibu or Pernod as they got very sick drinking it as a teenager. Consequently, if you had a wonderful, romantic holiday romance you may be taken back by the smell of your beau’s aftershave or perfume.”

This essentially means that the first encounter of a certain scent is the one that sticks with you for life, so trying to erase the unwanted memoir of your ex from a fragrance that you still want to love might be harder than it seems (sorry). On the other hand, Davies reminded us that it can also be a good thing and it lets the good memories can last a lifetime. “The great thing about this is if you want to prolong great memories of any wonderful holidays or other great experiences take a special scent with you whilst you’re feeling fabulous and you will revivify the feelings at will on your return.”

The relationship between a scent and emotion is a beautiful thing. It let’s you hold on to people, places, and periods of your life that you may not be able to experience again. Something as simple as a smell that can take you back to such secluded memories is one that we should hold onto forever. Take a moment to appreciate what you smell on a daily basis, whether it’s freshly cut grass, the vague smell of an unknown aftershave worn by that guy you see every day on the tube or even just the musk of the tube station itself. You never know what scents might mean something to you in the future.

Feature image: mentatdgt from Pexels