Some of the first scents I can recall are those from nature. One sniff of freshly cut grass, burning leaves, just-picked peonies—the smell of the outdoors that lingers in your clothes and hair—and I’m whisked away to my carefree youth. Dr. Alan Hirsch, a Chicago-based neurologist from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, calls this phenomenon “olfactory-evoked nostalgia.” In 2003, he studied 989 people from 45 American states and 39 countries. “Eighty-four per cent of the people said that certain odours made them nostalgic for their childhood,” he says. And smells from the great outdoors were high on the recollection list. (My own fondness for florals came from a backyard full of peonies, lilacs and lilies of the valley, which I picked with my mother to fill vases around our home.) Where we live also has an effect on the odours that trigger our feelings. The same study revealed that in North America, people from the East Coast were reminded of their childhood upon smelling flowers and fresh air, while the odour of farm animals evoked the youth of those from the Midwest. Barbecued meat triggered memories for those who grew up in the western states, but for Quebecers, tourtière did the trick. Not only did environment influence the results of the study, but age did too. “The older subjects were more likely to describe natural smells like hay, trees, horses and pine,” says Dr. Hirsch. “The younger ones were more likely to recall their childhood from artificial smells like Play-Doh, Pez, Vicks VapoRub and even jet fuel.” So why is our sense of smell so powerful—even more so than sight and taste? “It’s the quickest way to change a mood state or emotion,” says Dr. Hirsch. “Our sense of smell is the only sensory system to directly project the emotional brain into the limbic system [the area in the brain connected to the pleasure centre].” Think of desserts: Through a bakery window, you scan the desserts to decide which one looks most appealing, but as soon as the scent of just-baked cinnamon buns, for example, reaches your nose, the intoxicatingly sweet aroma draws you in.
Tania Kwong is Glow's beauty editor. Obsessiveness is clearly intrinsic to her personality: She also describes herself as a "magazine hoarder" stretching back to when she devoured every issue of Bop and Sassy as a teenager.