19    May 20142 comments

Nostalgia: Smells of the past

Nostalgia is defined as sentimentality about the past, typically for a time or place remembered with happy personal associations.

The word nostalgia comes from a combination of two Greek words, νόστος (nóstos), meaning "homecoming," and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning "pain, ache."

It is attributed to a 17th-century medical student to describe anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.

It can be brought on by many different associations. Memories can be stirred when looking at old photos of people and places, listening to a song that takes you back to when you first heard it, or tasting something familiar from your childhood.

Sensory expert Professor Barry Smith says that "Smell, more than any other sense, can evoke powerful, emotional memories. Whole scenes of people, places and things can be brought back to life by the hint of a long forgotten scent."

“Whether it’s a seaside holiday, a visit to a fairground, or a sunny walk through a forest, smelling a particular scent can suddenly take us right back.”

According to a UK study of over 2,000 adults, recently featured in the Daily Mail, certain smells are more likely to trigger nostalgic memories than others. The study revealed the top 40 scents that evoke powerful emotions among Brits when smelled again.

The top 10 smells which trigger nostalgic memories of school days, holidays and loved ones include sun cream, bubble gum, fish and chips, freshly mown grass, candy floss (cotton candy for those in the US) and rain on hot tarmac.

Lavender and peppermint were found to most likely spark memories of grandmothers, while the smell of gasoline, old sheds and Old Spice were likely to prompt memories of grandfathers.

What smells make you nostalgic? What smells do you associate with your childhood?

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Wet cement after a rain, washed clothes in winter brought in from the line and hung inside to dry, hot popcorn and hot chocolate.
  2. Cigarette smoke and burnt coffee remind me of my parents. They both were a pack a day smokers. I would take a quarter over to the Mom & Pop store to buy my Mother's Winstons. Bringing them home, I would take the Cellophane Wrapper off to get the two penneys off the bottom. They cost was 23 cents and they put the penneys inside the wrapper so you got your change when you bought them from a machine.

    Both my parents drank lots of coffee. They had a 30 cup maker that they filled twice a day. If company came they made a new pot but saved the old coffee. They preferred their coffee thick enough to float a silver dollar. If it wasn't bitter, they waited an hour so it would be. Then they put sugar and Half and Half in it. I think they bought two quart of Half & Half and 5 pounds of sugar each week just for their coffee. That's like 4 oz of sugar per day apiece. None of us kids developed a taste for coffee.

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