How certain scents can make you more productive

January was all about deprivation. New year, new…things you can make yourself miserable doing. January can feel like it’s all about listing the things we can leave behind just so we can become happier and healthier.

But what happens if some of those things are actually making us happy already and we just don’t know it yet?

Alcohol is something thousands of people give up in January. Dry January is about cleansing our bodies, flushing out the toxins, and getting on top of our routines. But wine actually boosts dopamine, which means you get a kick of pleasure from drinking it. A glass of wine, sipped slowly, states experts, stimulate taste and odour receptors in our mouths, which can trigger a pleasurable reaction. As well as a boost of pleasure, sipping wine can also boost memory and heart function.

If you want a simple way to feel better without giving up ice cream or other heinous suggestions, sniffing the right scent could boost your mood. There must be a reason some of us spend hundreds of pounds on candles. Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University conducted a study which shows peppermint can boost your mood – no wonder you feel so chirpy once you’ve brushed your teeth in the morning. In fact, studies have found that any smells of things packed with Vitamin C scents are guaranteed to provide a small positive uplift.

Does everyone respond to scents in the same way?

One of the biggest smell-triggers is memory. Karima Abdellatif, product manager at Marie-Stella-Maris explains: “The smell of baked goods generally transports us to our grandparents’ houses and happy, childhood memories. Smell’s ability to trigger moods is based on memory. When you encounter a smell with familiar fragrance notes it can elicit a memory or a mood. Of course, a scent’s power will differ from person to person.”

In fact, Karima Abdellatif believes in the power of scent so much she and Frederique Keuning, creative director and co-founder of Spaces, have created a fragrance called No.10 Spirit de Travail (or spirit of work) which has been created to boost productivity, creativity and positivity. “Citrus notes tend to have an invigorating / energizing effect, perfect for a workspace, which is why we’ve used them in No.10 Spirit de Travail.”

Abdellatif says: “Research from Gary E. Schwartz at the University of Arizona showed us that negative feelings (that many of us experience in the workplace) like irritation, annoyance and stress can be countered by smell. As such, No.10 Spirit de Travail has been specially developed by fragrance experts to stimulate positive emotions such as happiness and relaxation.”

She believes that people are still exploring just how great smells can make us feel. “More and more, different smells are being used in retail and hospitality to create new experiences for consumers, people are increasingly recognising a strong connection to their sense of smell. We are also seeing evidence of this when we look at the bestselling products from Marie-Stella-Maris – the home fragrances are very popular, with scent diffusers being the no.1-selling product.”

A few years ago there was a conspiracy that Subway was spraying bread smell out of the shops and onto the streets. Bread is nice, but it’s hard to argue that the taste of bread is better than the smell of bread. Bread evokes so many sensations and feelings, that it makes perfect sense a shop that sells sandwiches would want customers to stop, breathe in and enjoy the aroma of freshly baked goods to make them want to eat.

One former employee, quoted in the Observer, said from his experience, the shops tried to ensure their vents faced the street, so the baking smell would float out into the city. He spoke to one employee who was told to bake cookies first thing in the morning so the first thing customers would smell when they walked in the store was baking.

Dopamine makes us happy

Giving up coffee and red wine at New Year would mean that we might be giving up things that make us happier without the adverse effects of actually consuming these things.

Dopamine, which just smelling coffee can trigger, releases endorphins and generally makes us happier. It’s the most widely consumed psychoactive substance, Psychology Today claims. Coffee mimics cocaine and marijuana, and just by smelling it, it triggers dopamine, but also memories of how happy the last cup made you. This is why when you’re drinking it, you keep reaching for the next until you get the shakes.

Aromatherapy, or ‘smell therapy’ has long played a role in making us happy. It’s an ancient way of boosting our happiness levels, and it shouldn’t be surprising that manmade smells, like bread and brewed coffee, can be just as impactful on our mood as lavender. Smells trigger memory, and association.

For example, simply by smelling coffee you might remember all the brilliant times you met friends and relaxed. You rarely have a latte when you’re about to be fired. Similarly, if you visit a spa, you might smell sandalwood lit in a small burner. When you smell that again, for example in someone’s perfume or in a hair salon, you will immediately feel calmer and perhaps, if you like massages, happier.

Take your smell toolkit to work

Aromatherapists may take things too far, and believe that everything can be cured by simply sniffing a few oils. But science has found that there are ways to change our mood with bad smells or good smells. Anyone who’s been around a baby that needs changing or has slid in dog poo knows just how detrimental bad smells can be for our moods.

As well as boosting our moods, smells may also be able to keep staff well at work. Beverley Hawkins who runs the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy, told Entrepreneur magazine that: “"Essential oils have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and using them in an environment where there are a lot of people can help to keep germs at bay. A simple inhalation of an aroma can cause many changes in the body, which can include activating the immune system and helping digestion.”

If you want to keep your time at work as pepped up as possible, without resorting to illicit or caffeinated substances, then smell experts reckon you should keep a stash of the following near your desk. Lavender, to chill out after tough meetings; rosemary, which is meant to make you feel pepped up in the morning; and peppermint, which apparently invigorates the mind, so is a useful brainstorming tool.

Armed with your toolkit, and, of course, a big cup of coffee next to you for all the dopamine-boosting smells, necessary smells, there’s no excuse not to hit the ground running this year.

If our Live Life Better series has piqued your interest in the senses, check out our upcoming event with sensory experience experts Bompas & Parr.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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