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Smelling A Book Can Bring Back Cherished Childhood Memories

You're not the only one who buries their face in a book.
Go ahead, smell that book.
Westend61 via Getty Images
Go ahead, smell that book.

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s (almost) daily guide to helping you pick up an easy, everyday ritual that can make your life a bit better, in a small but significant way.

Canadians are stressed out, anxious, and are feeling disconnected from each other. Every Monday through Friday, we’ll share a tiny tip to help you feel good. We’ve got your back.

Today’s habit: Crack open a book and smell its pages!

For whenever you’re feeling: Like you want to remember your days spent at the library when you were a kid.

What it is: I’m a book nerd. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a book or two on the go (I’m currently reading the excellent She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey) and I’ve recently re-discovered my love for the library.

When I was a kid I spent hours in the library reading Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, and Shakespeare’s plays. And although I’ve forgotten most of what the books contained (except for your fine works, Shakes), I can never forget the smell of them. Now, when I open up a book, new or loaned, the first thing I do is press my face against the inside spine and inhale deeply. Ahhhhh.

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How it can help: I don’t have to be a psychologist to know that smelling books makes me feel good, but science backs me up and gives a bit of insight as to why it lifts my mood.

A few studies have been published on how certain smells affect someone’s mood and physiology. For instance, a study published in the Chemical Senses journal found that “certain relaxing fragrances are able to reduce stress-induced muscle tension” and Scientific American explains that odours affect people’s moods based on the association the smell has with some event or memory.

“This explanation for how odours affect us is based on what is known as associative learning, the process by which one event or item comes to be linked to another because of an individual’s past experiences. The linked event is then able to elicit a conditioned response for the original situation,” wrote Rachel S. Herz, an assistant professor of psychology at Brown University.

According to Herz, most of our responses to odours are formed during childhood, “because of the novelty and salience of so many experiences,” which explains why smelling a book, especially one borrowed from the library, immediately makes me feel relaxed and happy.

Previous research has found that smells can affect our short and long-term moods in a positive way, which is why creating an environment with pleasant smells can make you feel calm and relaxed. (This is also why I’ve been begging to use our basement as a library.)

In 2017, a groundbreaking study published in Heritage Science found a connection between the chemical composition of old books and people’s reactions to them, which allowed researchers to create a “historic book odour wheel.” This wheel helped them devise a way of “relating such apparently subjective descriptions [of old books] directly to the chemical composition of books,” noted The Guardian.

And rest assured reader, if you’ve always loved the smell of books, you are not alone.

How to get started: Go to your local library, flip through some books and smell away! Or, if you have some old tomes at home, check them out, too.

Where you can do it: Wherever you’re most comfortable! Some people don’t care whether others notice their smelling habit, while others prefer to be alone.

How it makes us feel: Smelling a book brings back so many good memories of when I was a kid, spending hours in the library. I feel very relaxed and at peace.

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