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If you think about your favorite fragrance, chances are that it will bring a smile to your face. It’s one of-if not the most-alluring things about perfumes: their ability to change and lift our mood. One spritz of our favorite fragrance and we swear we become happier people-and it turns out there’s some scientific proof behind why certain scents make us feel happy.
Dr. Bedi explains that when we smell something, we inhale molecules that go through the back of our noses to where our sensory cells are. These then send a signal to our brain and go through the olfactory cortex to decode what we’re smelling.
“The brain does its calculations and it says when you were two years old, you were told that this is mint, or when you were 10-years-old, you were told that this is truffle oil,” he says. “That’s how you make that connection.”
After our brains identify the scent, they then determine whether it’s a positive or negative smell. How this happens involves the parts of our brains that are tied with emotion and memory.
Pamela Dalton, a cognitive psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center (MCSC), agrees and says that the olfactory system is part of the brain where emotions are processed, thus having an immediate pathway to evoking an emotional response or mood change.
This all makes sense, but why certain smells are categorized as positive or negative still needs to be explored. Dr. Bedi explains that while we may know certain smells induce certain reactions, there’s no definitive answer to explaining why that is. Many factors determine whether a scent can make you happier or not-while scents are generally categorized as positive or negative in our brains, it is our life experiences that ultimately decide whether that scent has any effect on us emotionally.
There’s a reason fragrance is one of the most personal beauty products: what we gravitate towards is dependent on so many factors. “Overall, the scents that make us happier are very specific to the individual,” says Linda G. Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation. “However, many people share similar scent memories that could be linked to happiness. There are many common ingredients that can enhance mood and feelings of happiness or relaxation.”
These common scents include lavender, which Levy says is known to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation, and citrus notes like lemon, orange, and grapefruit, which she says can help you feel energized and refreshed. She further explains that florals can bring a delicate note of calm and serenity, while wood notes like sandalwood, cedarwood, and vetiver, are used to help people feel grounded and balanced.
Studies have shown that these scents do have positive effects when inhaled. In recent years, Dr. Bedi has done some work on aromatherapy and has introduced scents such as lavender, citrus, juniper, rosemary, and bergamot to help his patients feel relaxed.
Where these known “happy” scents are placed when making a perfume depends on the project. Fragrance expert and Find Your Happy Place fragrance developer Ann Gottlieb explains that, typically, top notes are where you’ll find citrus scents, the heart is made of florals, fruity, and spicy notes, and the base is where you’ll find deeper scents such as wood and gourmand-but these aren’t strict guidelines for when she makes fragrances.
There is no right or wrong way to find a fragrance that makes you happy. With so many options out there, you’re bound to find the right one for you. In this instance, your nose knows best.