Smelling Is Feeling: Using Scent to Change Your Mood


Here's a little scent trivia. Something unsexy, but true: our sense of smell is inherently tied to our limbic system.  More specifically, our olfactory receptors have strong input into the amygdala, which is the emotional centre of our brain. So scent—in addition to forming and triggering memories—makes you feel things about these memories. I know: wild. But it’s surprising how little people care.

If our senses were Monopoly pieces, smell would be the thimble. As a tool, it’s undervalued and overlooked in a culture that places a premium on visual and auditory stimulus. Part of this is a good thing: since smells are hard to capture and impossible to digitize, we’ve never really figured out how to manipulate it beyond the creation of scented products. On the other hand, scent’s ability to positively affect our emotions remains relatively untapped. 

At the heart of this intimate, analog relationship we have with our sense of smell is the ability to shape our environment, and along with it our mood. As such, scent becomes a powerful tool for mental health, even if its effects are temporary. Much has been said about the impressions our scents make on other people; not enough credit is given to the impressions they can make on ourselves. 

With that said, here are a list of smells that have “documented” positive effects on our mental state. Some of this is supported by research; some of it comes from personal experimentation.  Truth be told, I don’t need science to legitimize this, and I would rather promote the very unscientific practice of playing a scented trick on yourself.  If it works, it works. Aromatherapy could be one big scam, but at least the placebo effect smells great.


  • Bergamot, lemon and other citruses
  • Jasmine 
  • Pine
  • Fresh-cut grass


  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary


  • Lavender 
  • Chamomile 
  • Ylang ylang


  • Baby powder 
  • Sunscreen
  • Rose

Like a compilation of favourite songs or an inventory of supplements, smells can become part of our toolkit for correcting, boosting, and changing the way we feel. The good news is, they're all around us—with essential oils, scented lotions and raw materials readily at our disposal, it's as easy as lighting a candle or slicing a lemon in half.


Photo courtesy of Noele Lusano.