Scents and Sensitivity –Become What You Smell This Season.

This holiday season is one long parade of fragrances, together with sights and sounds. So much of the emotional allure of the holidays is already stored deep in our brain. Packed long ago but ready to embark on this annual sentimental journey back to safe and happy times.  Our noses lead us like an unleashed dog in a city park, back and forth over time, retracing our celebratory steps since childhood.

Fragrance lights up an innate mechanism that lives inside us all. We’ve been here before and our nose returns us to that moment. Attentive retailers and realtors know how to strum and excite our brains through our noses. We are vulnerable because our sense of smell (and taste) is wired directly into the core of our brains. Smell receptor cells extend directly into the highly organized olfactory bulb, where information about every odor experience gets processed and associated.

The olfactory senses are part of the limbic system within the brain which controls our emotions, emotional responses, mood, motivation, pain and pleasure sensations. At a basic level, we are what we experience through taste and smell.

Think about the unique smells and aromas you encounter when walking into: 

  • A coffee shop
  • The hardware store
  • A leather, tack or western wear shop.
Tack shop and leather goods

Tack shop and leather goods

  • High school basketball game
  • Movie theatre
  • A chocolate store
  • Les Schwab or another tire store

Remember Grandma’s house? Her kitchen at Christmas or Thanksgiving? So much of our memory is keyed to the smell of the place. As a high school and then college student in Missoula I walked most mornings past the old Eddy’s Bakery near Hellgate High School. Within many blocks of Eddy’s on any morning the smell of baking bread permeated the neighborhood. Eddy's breadSimilarly the smell of my copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses still takes me back to the bookstore in Ireland where I purchased it in 1976. The smell of Pledge furniture polish was proof that my mother’s house was really cleaned and company was coming for dinner.

Want to be immediately engaged with the emotions of your guests to your home or business? Fragrance scientists and merchandising consultants know that people respond immediately, both physically and mentally, to certain fragrances in their surroundings. Citrus clean is a more positive smell than Clorox fresh. Cloves and cinnamon in apple cider at the rear of the gift shop creates hospitality with a capital ‘H’. The chosen store fragrance is a subliminal ‘branding’ strategy for many successful retailers.

A Realtor wanting to sell a home will advise that the owner bake bread or pie or cookies before a showing. This tactic will only be effective once the negative smells of smoking, mold, burned garlic, and pets have been vanquished. Prospective buyers react predictively to negative odors and will emotionally and physically flee a home where their nose detects even a hint of some offensive, stale smell. Even fresh chocolate chip cookie won’t cover moldy/musty basement carpet. Deep clean all surfaces, ventilate and then bake pie for the warmest possible impact on a prospective home buyer.

The senses of smell and taste evolved as a primary defense mechanism. Foul smelling, rancid or rotting food was deemed by the animal nose as not fit to put in the mouth. (My golden retrievers apparently missed this evolutionary memo.) Intuitively we react to bad smells more quickly than good smells. Yet we turn off the awareness of a bad smell more quickly than a good smell. It is the high concentration of a bad smell that again alerts us. The smell of skunk can be detected for miles. A smoker in the car that just passed on the street leaves a trail for the sensitive non-smoker’s nose.

Once a strong smell is factored as ‘safe’ by the mind, we relax our defenses. Bad smells are like recurring alarm sirens in the limbic system of the brain. ‘Beware’ they warn our conscious and subconscious. There is a local restaurant where I cannot be comfortable, because the chemical smell of toilet sanitizer seeps out into their dining area. Their food then inevitably tastes of clean urinal. Too much of an overpowering ‘safe’ chemically sweet or floral scent is obviously not a good thing for a store’s branding effort.

When that fresh tangerine-like smell of a balsam fir in your insurance agent’s office reminds you of your first trip with dad to cut the family tree, just go with it. Let the memory flow when it takes you back to good, safe and happy places. Seek and create new holiday scent memories this season and then randomly return there for the rest of your life. One delicious aroma presented you by a wonderful new or olde recipe, new wine varietal or candle scent will stay with you longer than any of the gifts under your tree.

Do you have a favorite ‘fragrance memory’? Please take a moment to share it with us in the response line below. We may share our readers’ recollections in a future holiday post.

Happy and Safe Holidays from the staff of Floodco LLC!