The Link Between Aromas and Emotions

Written by Laura Peto


Posted on January 06 2022

Here’s a fact: 75% of emotions we generate every day are triggered by our sense of smell. Most of us would feel happy and relaxed once we walk into a room that smells like lavender or vanilla. But if that room smells of trash that hasn’t been tossed out for a week, we’d feel quite the opposite. That happens because scent is the strongest sense linked to emotions.

How does our brain make sense of scents and aromas?

Scents and aromas can get to our brain’s limbic system quickly. And we can thank the olfactory bulb for that. The olfactory bulb is in the front of the brain and has a direct route to the limbic system, hippocampus, and amygdala—regions related to emotion and memory. 

That explains why we’re 100 times more likely to remember something we smell over things we see, touch, or hear. And those things we remember are often intertwined with emotions. Take the smell of freshly baked vanilla cookies, for instance. That scent may take you back to the afternoons you spent in your grandparents’ kitchen many years ago—and the happiness and satisfaction you felt during those precious moments. 

So, now, every time you smell vanilla or similarly fragrant aromas, you immediately feel elated and perfectly content. That can happen even if there aren’t baked vanilla cookies in front of you, or you’re miles away from your grandparents’ house. Sometimes, when we smell something familiar, the memory won’t even resurface—only the initial emotional response to that smell. 

People also tend to smell in color. That’s according to Dawn Goldworm, an olfactory branding expert. She said that people tend to associate aromas with colors. Some link citrus-flavored smells with the colors orange, yellow, and green. Grassy scents like vetiver make people remember the colors green and brown. Again, that’s evidence of how the olfactory bulb, amygdala, and hippocampus work together to make sense of smells. 

It’s time to reap the power of aromas to boost your mood. 

Now we know how the sense of smell triggers memories and emotions, it’s time to harness its power to boost our moods. One thing we can do is burn fragrant incense sticks or cones. Here are some of the incense fragrance flavors that can elicit positive feelings:

  • Cinnamon: With a sweet smell, the aroma of cinnamon can improve your mood. Some studies state that it can also boost cognitive functions, making it easy to be alert and retain information. If you want to reap those benefits (and other cinnamon’s powerful properties), try burning cinnamon incense sticks at home.
  • Jasmine: The fragrance of jasmine can calm your nerves whenever you feel overwhelmed or stressed out. It can also stimulate a boost of energy—perfect whenever you feel demotivated to complete your daily tasks at work or home.
  • Lavender: There’s a reason lavender has been used for aromatherapy for years now. It has strong healing properties that can reduce your stress levels. Whether used alone or combined with other aromas, it can positively impact your mood.
  • Patchouli: Patchouli incense powders not only smell incredible, but they can also help increase your confidence. That’s something you may want to have in your home office, so you can work better and harder throughout the day.
  • Pine: Walk through a pine forest, and you’ll immediately feel calm and relaxed. That’s because the scent of pine can help clear your mind, uplift your mood, energize your body, and even enhance your concentration.
  • Rose: Rose incense can deepen emotions and boost your compassion. No wonder the rose it’s a symbol of love. This floral scent can also impart a feeling of calmness and tranquility, making it a perfect item to have when relaxing or meditating.
  • Vanilla: Besides pastry making, vanilla is also used in aromatherapy. Its scent won’t only take you back to the days with your grandparents baking vanilla sugar cookies, but it’ll help reduce your stress and anxiety. So when you need to seek serenity and uplift your mood, you can skip the cookies and light a vanilla incense instead.