We all have that fragrant flashback when a smell immediately takes us back to a specific time and place. It could be crayons, chocolate cake, curry or the freshly cut grass in the summer. For me, I cannot smell basil without thinking of my mum and those days of my youth spent in a little town near Viterbo, in Italy.
We might think of smell as a sense in which only sommeliers or perfumers are experts – explains The Smithsonian writer Helen Fields– but, in fact, it’s the most powerful channel that connects with our brain. In turn, it is able to activate emotions and very specific memories: when you associate a particular smell with a positive experience, the power of fragrance in altering your mood is obvious.
Triggered by this evidence, I dug around a bit to find out which could be the most popular scent memories amongst my little circle of midlife friends and I discovered that two, in particular, were quite recurring: baby powder and fresh-cut grass. Why?
The first smell is able to get us a nostalgic response. The baby powder scent reminds us of the safety and security we felt as children; for parents, in particular, it invokes memories of the happiness they felt when their children were young.
According to Australian research, the chemical released by freshly cut grass can instead cause people to become more relaxed and feel joy. It takes you back to the playful days of your childhood, those simple moments of ease, whether that be napping in a hammock or walking with nature. What’s more, it even can help prevent the mental decline of old age.
Dr Nick Lavidis, a neuroscientist at the University of Queensland, said this particular scent works directly on the brain, affecting the regions responsible for emotion and memory. These two areas, he explains, “are responsible for the flight or fight response and the endocrine system, which controls the releasing of stress hormones like corticosteroids.” Basically, the scent and the chemicals of freshly cut grass can help improve our wellbeing.
Maybe we should add mowing the lawn to our resolutions for making every morning happier?