What’s your favourite memory-evoking smell?

Just one whiff of chlorine, and I’m 10-years-old again, shivering in Heston Swimming Baths.

It’s now five-and-a-half years since I moved to San Francisco from the UK.

There are naturally a ton of things that I enjoy about living here.

Unsurprisingly, though, there are also aspects I miss, and one perhaps curious example is how easy it is to swim in a public pool in the UK.

There are relatively few swimming pools open to the public here in California, and the few I know about are only open in the summer months, on limited days, and for limited hours.

Of course, there are beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches a short drive away, but few people here swim in the sea, mainly because it’s so teeth-chatteringly cold.

The surfers manage, but it’s okay for them. They wear wetsuits.

But as I said right at the top, it only takes a single sniff of that particular “eau de swimming pool” chlorine to transport me back in time.

The (very) old Heston Swimming Baths

I’ve been thinking a lot about how evocative certain smells can be, instantly triggering powerful memories.

Sometimes memories we thought we’d forgotten, if that makes sense.

I explained last week that I’m now working on a fascinating project that’s harnessing the strong association between fragrance and memory to boost emotional well-being, while you sleep.

And thanks, by the way, to the many readers who got in touch to encourage me in these endeavours.

This week, I’d love you to take a few minutes to think about the smells you’ve experienced that have a strong link to people, places, or events in your own past.

Then, maybe you’ll be generous enough to share your thoughts with me, and, in turn, our readers?

Please email me, then I’ll compile as many contributions as possible into a brief anthology that I’ll share in your next Moodnudges post.

It may help to answer three simple questions:

  1. What one smell has the strongest memory-evoking effect on you?
  2. What specifically does it remind you of?
  3. And how does it make you feel to have these memories triggered?

I really look forward to hearing from you, and can’t wait to share what others tell me.

4 thoughts on “What’s your favourite memory-evoking smell?

  1. The fragrant and subtle scent of freesias reminds me of happy times with my mother. She always said ‘flowers are for the living’ when planning her death when terminally ill with cancer so didn’t want flowers being wasted on her when she was dead. We compromised and just had a single bouquet of freesias on her coffin which was later taken to a hospice and instead family and friends gave donations which went to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

    I now always have at least one bunch of freesias in my apartment and when I catch the scent in the air I imagine her smiling.

    I have a very keen sense of smell which is powerful for me both positively and negatively so interested to hear about your research- hope it goes well.

    1. Such a very moving reflection, Christine.

      That’s a lovely thing to do, keeping a bunch of freesias in your apartment — and so great that you remember your mother’s smile whenever you smell them.

      I think she’d have liked the idea of that, a lot.

  2. The supercharged scent of ozone after a rolling thunderstorm transports me to summer storms of my childhood growing up in Arizona. While thunderstorms are quite the rare occurrence here in San Francisco, those few times we do get them are magical. I’ll spend hours on end, watching the flashes light up the sky, listening to the hard rain dance upon the roof, and drink in the crisp aroma of the freshly washed air. Something I wish I could experience more often than just once or twice every few years.

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