smell of happiness.

Your house smells. It's not your fault.
Your house smells. Don’t feel bad—it’s not just you! Your neighbor’s house smells, as does the White House. Even Martha Stewart’s abode has a distinctive odor. But not one of you could pick your own home’s aroma out of a scent lineup.

We adapt to smells very quickly. Within the space of just a few breaths, we can lose our ability to detect new odors. It’s called olfactory adaptation, and it’s the same reason you can’t smell your own breath, your body odor, or even your perfume after a few minutes. This, cognitive psychologist Pamela Dalton told New York Magazine, may be a good thing.

Every object in our environment gives off scented molecules. When you inhale, the molecules pass through your nostrils and stick to a wall of mucus on the back of your throat. That mucus is home to receptor cells that tell your brain what it is you’ve just sniffed. Our brains watch out for danger. Any change in our surroundings could represent a threat, so the brain focuses on new sights, sounds, feelings—and smells. After a few sniffs, you should know what needs to be dealt with and what’s okay to ignore. Fresh cut flowers? Nice, but not a problem. The smell of burning hair? Maybe to check that out.

Are you worried that your house reeks and nobody’s telling you? You may be able to find out by employing a few tricks of the perfume trade. Since familiarity is the key, you can give your nose a fresh start by leaving the house for a few hours. When you return, you should be able to get a good idea of what everyone else smells.

If that doesn’t work, try jumping around the room for a few minutes. The increased blood flow can briefly improve your sense of smell. Perfumers actually run up and down the stairs between sniffs, Dalton says. (The downside of vigorous exercise is that you may become a little fragrant yourself.

In the end, how the house smells may be less important than how we feel about it; there’s nothing quite like the smell of happiness.

“my theory on housework is,

if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be.

no one else cares. why should you?

-erma bombeck



story credits: mental floss – kate horowitz, new york magazine

image credit: tim oun

80 responses »

  1. “The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
    ― Neil Gaiman, American Gods
    “It’s the closest thing we poor creatures have to magic, my dear—the ability to be transported through time by a waft of scent that unlocks memory.”
    ― Jason Fry, The Secret Academy
    “Listen more than you speak, sniff more than you listen.”
    ― John Alejandro King a.k.a. The Covert Comic
    “The nose is idiosyncratically central not only to our sense of smell but to our sense of who we are , in our most primal appetites. For the idea of appetite pertains to food as well as to all the sensual and spiritual experiences that drive us, give us pleasure, make us feel more alive in the moment. Scent is a portal to these basic human appetites—for the far-off, the familiar, the transcendent, the strange, and the beautiful—that have motivated us since the origins of our species.”
    ― Mandy Aftel, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Olfactory memories are said to be the strongest. When I walk into my house and smell something good…a fragrant meal being prepared, the freshness of sheets just plucked from the dryer, a whiff of a recently lit candle…I instantly feel my heart lighten. 💕

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I have experienced this adaptation often in my line of work.

    And there have been a few times I have left my house, returned, and thought “what the heck is that horrific smell?” It’s a good way to find out something leaked out of the trash bag into the trash can under it…..or leftovers leftover too long. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: smell of happiness. | Happy Gourmand

  5. Knowing how I must be accustomed to the smell of my own home, I’ve asked my son to tell me if he smells anything “off” when he comes over. You always hear about grandma’s house having an “old lady” smell (not to mention Grandma herself), and I’d like to avoid that.

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  6. I love this! There is a film that has a comedic sketch about people who visit someone’s house…the first woman arrives and says: “is Harry still smoking those cigars?” the next one wrinkled her nose and says “fish for dinner?” The third one can’t be shared here but you get the idea!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Tuesday 17th August 2021 – #Smell by Beth, #VikingBooze Rob Shackleford, #Update Mary Smith | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  8. Because of my allergies, I can’t smell, or taste much, or at times, anything. I can’t smell skunks, nothing. It’s weird. Food, if I can taste it at all, i flat and all I get is texture. That can be a problem. My cousin keeps shoving roses at me, when were at the Botanic Garden and I keep telling her I CAN’T SMELL THEM, SO STOP IT. LOL But she won’t. Sigh I love all the sayings. Erma is still up to date and funny. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is fascinating. I love the smell of a “clean” house, and when I’ve been gone for a few hours, I do smell “clean” when I enter, as well as the fresh flowers I always place here and there. Fresh flowers leave a lingering beautiful scent. Perfumes make me sick. Hmmm, but maybe I’ll go jump up and down and see if I still smell clean. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The smell of happiness… I love that I always think you get a feeling when you walk into a house when you are househunting.. some just feel “right”.. I also panic about that old lady smell.. .very interesting post, Beth.. 😀 x

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I understand that some people can give off more body odor than others (I’m sure no Prince Charming when I’m working out), but it’s always struck me as odd how some folks are seemingly unaware of their bad BO. Perhaps, here’s the explanation.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Lovely post, Beth. Smells are so subjective, aren’t they? What smells divine to one, smells like crap to another! The important thing is for our home to smell of happiness. I would be very sad to lose my sense of smell – since the double whammy of that, is losing sense of taste.
    And I am totally with Erma!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You always write such interesting posts! Never knew about olfactory adaptation or the strange habit with perfumers (running up and down). The last line is beautiful: Nothing like the smell of happiness 😊🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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