Ever notice that you feel happier when you're baking? You may think that's because of the promise of baked treats -- who among us doesn't feel our mood lift when cookies are imminent? -- but the scent of vanilla may help you relax and may contribute to your improved demeanor. You also might find the same mood-lifting effect when you're having your morning grapefruit. And researchers at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found that the scent of licorice, for example, can help make you feel happier -- as well as more amorous [source: Johnson].
It's not just the fragrance of food, though. There's a reason why we suggest people stop and smell the roses: The smell of roses is uplifting, and when we smell them, our body has a positive physiological and psychological response to their fragrance.
Studies conducted at the Human Emotions Laboratory at Rutgers University found that when we smell floral scents, such as roses or lavender, it makes us happy -- in fact people who smelled floral scents during those studies reported three times as many happy thoughts than before smelling flowers [source: Cantor]. And the scent of lavender in your perfume, for example, may make you feel calmer, because it may be stimulating the brain in a similar way to how a prescribed sedative drug would.
Fragrance has been used for centuries as a way to treat the body and mind, and is thought to have a healing effect on everything from your back pain to your mood. What's happening behind the scenes goes something like this: When you inhale these fragrances, whether it's your favorite perfume oil, a scented candle or even the rose (or baked good) itself, you're triggering a chain of events in the body that begins with the smell receptors in your nose (the body's olfactory system). The chemicals in the scent (natural or synthetic, depending on what it is you're smelling) enter your lungs and move on to your bloodstream. The body's limbic system, the part of the brain that manages our emotions and memories, is stimulated, and the brain triggers a physiological response, such as a change in serotonin or norepinephrine levels, two brain chemicals that help, among other things, manage our moods.