A whiff of mom’s cornbread can send us back in time to Thanksgivings past, and there’s a reason for that. The aroma of baked goods is the No. 1 scent that makes people nostalgic for childhood, according to research conducted by Alan Hirsch, M.D., founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
Scents don’t just have the power to stir memories—they can also improve our mindset. “The quickest way to induce a change in mood is through smell,” says Hirsch, “because the part of the brain that regulates smell is also part of the limbic system, the brain’s emotional center.”
So go ahead and inhale deeply this season. Here, three ways to follow your nose to a better mood:
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If you think cleaning with Pine-Sol is invigorating, you’re not imagining things. “Pine contains an irritant component that stimulates the part of the brain that increases alertness,” says Hirsch. What’s more, people often link the smell with a refreshing, outdoorsy feeling—and that makes them happier, he adds. Harness the feel-good power of a piney smell (without scrubbing the house): Create aromatic pinecones by adding a few drops of pine essential oil, and display them in a pretty bowl or basket.
Cinnamon can enhance learning and memory. Wheeling Jesuit University researchers found that people scored higher on cognitive computer tasks when the smell of cinnamon was pumped into the air they breathed. The spice stimulates cerebral blood flow, says researcher Phillip Zoladz, which may help you stay motivated and think more creatively. Try lighting a cinnamon candle or using cinnamon-scented lotion for a brain boost.
When Hirsch conducted a study to find out which smells get men in the mood for love, he discovered that pumpkin pie is a serious biological turn on. One reason, he says, is that the scent may remind men of happy times, thus causing them to relax and feel less inhibited. What better way to test this theory than on Thanksgiving? Make a date with your love for some quality alone time—and put a pumpkin pie into a slow oven.