You Smell Like a Memory

grassHave you ever smelled something and were instantly transported back to a moment, day, or period of time from your past?

Every now and then I catch a whiff of dew-speckled, freshly-cut grass, and I can’t help but think of early-morning Saturday soccer games in my youth.

Sometimes I smell a certain combination of gasoline and wet concrete, and I’m back in Hiroshima for a few seconds.

And there is the rare occasion when I detect the odor of a southern spring, and I feel like I’m in high school again, driving into Richmond to pick up my first real girlfriend.

Scent is incredibly powerful at connecting us with our past. I mention this today because I recently read an article about how researchers in Singapore are using certain smells to engage the minds of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia in a way that has never been done before.

This is brilliant. It’s not a cure–not even close–but it’s a way to transport people back to better times. The researchers say that the smell kits have the effect of bringing out patients’ personalities, some for the first time in years.

I wonder if this could have implications for therapy as well. If you’re talking to your counselor about a tough time from your past that you’re having difficulty tapping into, you could smell something that reminds you of those times. It wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, but it might help you work through them with the guidance of your therapist.

I wish it were possible to bottle certain smells as we experience them so we can tap into those memories later. Like, Google Glasses for odors. That way you could capture scents from your happiest moments and sniff them later when you need them. You could even bottle them as perfume and have your lover wear it from time to time.

What smells transport you back to the past?