Prompted by one of my favourite podcasters, Gretchen Rubin, a happiness guru, I’ve been thinking about how appreciating the five senses affects our happiness.
Rubin is publishing a book on the five senses sometime in 2023. Her promotion of this book prompted me to consider how fully experiencing various sensations influences happiness. This is especially true in retirement when there is finally time to learn how happiness can be tasted, smelled, heard, touched and seen.
Taste of Happiness
Good foods and good drinks come to mind when considering the taste of happiness. Memories of rich dark chocolate or other sweets immediately surface. Fudge, ginger cookies, date squares and butter tarts with their lingering sweetness make me remember happy times.
Happy taste memories include acids and sours. Sourkraut, anyone? or Kimchee? What about hot peppers that burn the mouth and make the eyes water?
Citrus, while tasty is also acidic; most of us remember accusations of having sucked a lemon when pouting or in a bad mood. Not to be missed is the refreshing taste of toothpaste or mouthwash or a piece of chewing gum when the mouth feels stale or when a sour taste overwhelms and needs neutralizing.
Sight is one of the most powerful of our senses, We see movement, understand light and darkness and understand the gradations of light without thinking of how important this sense is to daily life. Our sight helps us perceive colour, brightness, and depth.
Our eyes work together to experience motion. They also help with balance and movement. Without eyesight, our sense of danger is compromised.
But, how does one ‘see’ happiness? I think of the love light in my husband’s eyes or the unwavering stare of a newborn as the child looks at a mother’s face. These looks evoke smiles and show true happiness.
Sounds of Happiness
The capacity to hear sounds is an important sensory input. Our ears translate sound waves from the environment to the brain helping us to respond to speech, understand signals of danger such as sirens or house alarms, and appreciate the natural world.
When considering sounds of happiness, music comes first to mind. The sound of a live band, or a skilled pianist, or the thrill of hearing a great soprano — all bring happiness and joy. Certain songs, such as dance music bring happy memories. We appreciate the calm feeling that comes from hearing a gentle rain on a rooftop or the whisper of a soft breeze. And what about those bird songs in springtime? Or the relaxation when we hear gentle waves on the beach?
Sense of Smell
The sense of smell often takes me back in time — back to the smell of bread baking in my mother’s kitchen or baby powder after a baby is freshly bathed. Who doesn’t like the smell of clean sheets or a lavender sachet in a linen closet? And what about the smell of freshly brewed coffee or tea? Or the smell of the earth when digging in a garden in the springtime?
One of the smells that always brings happiness to me is the smell of the cottage when I unlock the door and walk in. Perhaps it is the wood smell of pine panelling that covers the walls and ceilings — or is it the association with comfort, warmth and good times?
Our ability to experience touch helps us to understand the difference between hot, cold, pressure and pain. Touch allows us to notice textures such as the scratch of a woollen sweater, the smoothness of satin, or the feel of well-worn leather shoes.
Touch is the sense that brings ‘the feel of comfort’. Hugs bring a certain pressure that creates both warmth and comfort. We recall emotional memories of childhood when a hug brought the feeling of safety; hugs also serve to lower stress and bring on feelings of well-being.
The Senses Work with the Brain
Finally, it’s worth considering how the five senses work together. Our brains organize and interpret information from each sensory experience. Smell, taste and sight work together to fully taste good food. Colours can influence various emotional responses. Hearing and vision work together when alarming sounds are coupled with a bright flame in the sky signalling an explosion of some kind. Touching a hot stove and getting burned may overlap with the sound and smell of skin burning.
As we gather and respond to sensory information around us, we learn new things and remember past experiences. Everyday tasks are made easy because our senses are working for us. Our brains connect positive emotions and memories to generate feelings of happiness.
I hope all readers take time to consider and appreciate the happiness that our five senses bring.