The power of scent
Close your eyes and pretend you smell freshly baked bread or warm chocolate chip cookies. If you feel joyful or calm, then those foods are your happy triggers—they have immediate “feel good” effects on your brain. “Our ‘smell’ receptors are connected to the limbic system in the brain, which is connected to our emotions and even our long-term memories,” says wellness expert Susan Biali, MD, author of Your Prescription for Life: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier You. “Pleasant smells that are associated with positive memories are likely to trigger positive emotions.”
It’s not just positive associations or memories that trigger happy moods; some smells actually affect the neurochemical balance in our brain and change our emotions. Ready to feel happier, instantly? Check out these five scent-alicious foods proven to trigger happy moods.
Vanilla lattes, teas and ice cream
Are you frazzled, grumpy and running late? Dr. Biali suggests stopping for a latte. “Add a dash of vanilla flavoring and inhale its scent deeply as you drink,” she says. “It’ll relax you and make you feel better about your day.” The scent of vanilla is proven to trigger happy, relaxed, and even sensuous feelings, she adds. Other edible ways to inhale vanilla include drinking vanilla-flavored tea and eating fruit cobbler with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Cinnamon and peppermint sticks
The scents of cinnamon and peppermint decrease fatigue, stimulate the central nervous system and enhance motivation, says Bryan Raudenbush, associate professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. A cup of peppermint tea or hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon (or garnished with a cinnamon or peppermint stick) can increase alertness and decrease fatigue.
Low levels of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine have been linked to depression; ginger root enhances dopamine levels. “Research shows that ginger can reduce depression and anxiety,” says Nathalie Lussier, a raw foods coach. “Slice fresh ginger and put it in the bathtub while it’s filling up—and then relax in it. The scent will lift your spirits.”
Lemons and oranges
Citrus scents such as orange, lemon and tangerine directly affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, alleviate stress and have an anti-depressant affect. “[Research shows] that clementine is another citrus scent that makes people feel happy, stimulated, and energized,” says Dr. Biali. Lavender and rose scents are also effective in lifting moods, but lemon is proven to be most potent.
Roasted coffee beans
Finish your “happy meal” with the deep, rich aroma of coffee (decaffeinated, if the “real thing” keeps you up all night). Scientists have found that the scent of roasted coffee beans not only reduces stress brought on by sleep deprivation in rats, but also acts as a potential antioxidant. Research also shows that caffeine protects memory and reduces cognitive decline in women—which makes us very happy!