What are the happy scents of your childhood?
Is it the delicious smell of an apple pie baked by your grandma? Maybe it's the smell of a bonfire from your camping trip that brings you back to this time?
Freshly cut grass in the backyard of your family home, the crispy smell of the air on a Monday morning while going to school, the characteristic scent of new textbooks, scent of cakes baked together with your mother...
The sense of smell is like a time capsule. Memories, when triggered properly, come back in their full intensity.
Do you know this feeling when you hear a song from your teenage years that you didn't listen to for many years? You suddenly realise that you remember the words to the song. You can see your 14-year-old self singing the hit song out loud with your best friends! How is it even possible to retrieve such a hidden gem from your memory? The memory becomes so alive, so tangible and colourful.
Imagine this happening but through the sense of smell. After all, there is nothing more memorable to our brains than a fragrance. When we come into this world, we arrive with a fully developed sense of smell. Therefore, our earliest memories are marked with specific scents.
"Odours are effective reminders of the autobiographical experience", Aggleton and Waskett say in their research. Scent memory is very persistent and durable, sticking with us throughout our lives. Many adventures from our childhood fade in our mind; however, specific scents act as retrieval cues powerful enough to bring them all back in their full intensity.
The process of olfaction is very intricate and complex. Not only is it connected with the hippocampus, the area in the brain involved in memory function, but also to the amygdala and thalamus, connected to the modulation of emotions. What does this mean? In short: when we smell a specific scent, it influences our cognitive abilities, behaviours and even alters our emotional and physiological state. You can read more about the emotional arousal coming from the odour-elicited memories here.
Simon Chu and John J. Downes in their research define it as "the ability of odours spontaneously to cue autobiographical memories which are highly vivid, affectively toned and very old (…) between the ages of 6 and 10".
Childhood nostalgia brings a special feeling of joy, bliss and innocence… yet, undeniably, there is something so bittersweet about it.
The meaning of the word nostalgia has been broken down by Milan Kundera in his excellent book "Ignorance", that puts the Odyssean themes in a modern light:
"The Greek word for "return" is nostos.
Algos means "suffering".
So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return."
We all know the power of this universal and highly emotional longing for the past. While experiencing nostalgia, we revisit "personally meaningful life events shared with loved ones".
For years nostalgia has been interpreted as a mental disorder, a source of suffering and the reason for being stuck in the past without an escape. The research, however, shows that in fact, nostalgia is a future-oriented emotional experience!
How can swimming in our old memories orient us towards the future?
This very feeling of longing can often be triggered by the negative state such as loneliness or sadness. However, nostalgia, in turn, enhances our well-being, perceptions of meaning in life as well as feelings of social connectedness.
What does it mean exactly?
In short, it means that nostalgia is a magical phenomenon in our lives which we should treasure.
It can become a source of inspiration. It not only has the power to increase optimism but also bring a sense of purpose into our lives. When people revisit their childhood memories, their ability to appreciate the past as well as be hopeful for the future increases significantly. As we get older, nostalgia can make us feel youthful and optimistic about our health.
We all know what it’s like to bond over a favourite TV show from childhood with others. That’s because shared nostalgia builds closeness and helps us to see the similarities between ourselves and others.
The truth is, when we feel nostalgic, we're not hiding in the past. We have access to our most meaningful memories in order to approach the future filled with hope, motivation and purpose. Due to drawing from the past, we can handle transition periods in a better way, equipped in a repertoire of authentic and positive feelings.
Now, what if I told you that you could go back down memory lane whenever you want to?
What if there was a way to return home and your childhood nostalgia of bliss and innocence?
The mindful ritual of burning incense holds the potential of evoking our earliest, oldest childhood memories with unique scents that we can relate to different times in our lives...
Home is designed to elicit the warm feelings of childhood with a beautiful and rich fragrance of Buddha wood, baked fruit, clove, cedar and spice.
Who knows, maybe you can even experience the infamous Proustian effect? I guess there’s one way to find out…