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Does something smell fishy to you?

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The power of scent is a curious phenomenon. We are all familiar with the concept of “smelling fear.” But we can’t really smell it, because fear is an emotion, not a scent. We may see fear in someone’s eyes, or feel the tension in their muscles, but we can’t smell it. Yet, smell is so powerful that we often naturally align it with our emotions.

Sometimes when I get into a Chicago taxi cab, I feel as though I have crawled into an armpit and I grow so uncomfortable that all I can think about is a hot shower, regardless of my previous mood. Or, when I’m in the fragrance section of a department store, a whiff of Bulgari’s BLV Pour Homme brings me right back to a past relationship, one that unfortunately did not end well. Ironically, that bright blue, fresh, soapy scent sends me to a dark place, instantly dampening my mood. We constantly smell one thing and can’t help but feel another.

Smell can be dangerously deceptive. Something may smell good, but is it always? When I was in high school, I used to love Crabtree & Evelyn’s sweet and comforting almond scent – the first “fancy” body products I purchased for myself. However, when I became addicted to Nelson DeMille novels, I learned that deadly cyanide also has an almond scent. A scent that was once comforting, I now know may be dangerous. One of my friends from college told me that the smell of a special homemade vegetable soup always reassures her that she’s going to feel healthy. However, her sister, a dedicated raw foodist, grows ill just with one whiff of the cooked broth and dumplings. One sister’s medicine is the other’s poison.

Moreover, smell is always about control, whether or not it’s contradicting. As approximately 90% of taste, it controls how we perceive our food and it also controls the emotional pull on our memories. When I smell tuberose, I am brought back to Atlanta in 2005. After so many years, I wish the memories that get stirred with that one simple scent would stay dormant. Even though those memories aren’t negative, they’re emotionally charged, and the tug of tuberose from years past can spend my emotional energy in the present. The trouble is, I can’t help it – tuberose is permanently stored in my emotional archive.

What scents control you?

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