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"Smellscape" Your World and Improve Your Life

When we’re in a place that smells good, everything changes.

Key points

  • Being in a place that smells "good" improves mood—and by extension, problem-solving and creativity.
  • Floral scents tend to be favored by people worldwide.
  • Scents of rosemary, grapefruit, or peppermint help one feel more alert.

Many of us are getting ready to turn on our air conditioners (Northern Hemisphere) or our heating systems (Southern Hemisphere). Either way, we’ll soon be closing our windows.

After the windows close, it will take a few days for the air in our homes to get stale and for us to begin to think fondly of the fresh breezes that have been wafting through our homes—and you’ll be thinking about actively scenting your home if you’re like many. But should you actively “engineer” the scent in your home and what scents are best if you do?

How a good-smelling environment affects us

When we’re in a place that smells “good,” our mood improves, and when that happens, we are more effective problem-solvers, we think more creatively, and we get along better with other people, for example.

A space smells good when it smells fresh. “Fresh” is one of those sensory experiences we recognize when we encounter it but find hard to describe in words. If you’re opening windows when you can, have a current ventilation system, clean/replace your HVAC system’s air filters on schedule—and you’re keeping up with the dusting, vacuuming, and mopping—your home is probably smelling pretty fresh.

You bring products into your home with scents—even the unscented ones usually smell like something. Beyond keeping your house smelling fresh, you need to make multiple scent-related choices as you buy cleaning products, soaps, and so on.

Tips for choosing scents

So once you’ve established a “fresh” base, what scents should you layer on?

Worldwide, people generally think floral scents smell good.

Each culture’s baking and holiday traditions generate all sorts of odors that have positive associations and boost mood. In North America, for example, we link the smell of vanilla to baked goods we relish and the end-of-year holidays to cinnamon and pine. If you associate a pleasant memory with a scent, smelling that odor will improve your mood. An example: If a jasmine vine encircled your grandmother’s veranda, and you had great times on that veranda with your relatives, smelling jasmine today will elevate your mood.

What does the research say about the specific smells you should look for in scented products or air fresheners?

Now is the time to use the lavender potpourri you’ve been given over the years or to scout out some lavender-scented soaps/cleaners. Scientific studies show that the smell of lavender really is relaxing—and as a plus, it makes us more trusting. Not a big fan of lavender? Add the smell of oranges instead to relax you and bring down anxiety levels.

Want to feel more alert? Try smelling rosemary, grapefruit, or peppermint. Another benefit of smelling like grapefruit: When a woman smells like grapefruit, men are likely to estimate her age as five years younger than she actually is.

In your home office, lemon is a good scent to sniff—it has been tied to enhanced professional performance. The cinnamon-sugar smells of cinnamon rolls have been directly linked to a boost in creative performance—you knew there was a good reason to bake cinnamon pastries.

Don’t add too much scent to spaces—people should not even realize a space has been smellscaped unless you draw their attention to it, and even then, they should not be able to identify any odors in use. Easy, easy does it.

Managing the scents in your life is one way to make your life much better.

More from Sally Augustin Ph.D.
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