(This BLOG is an except from my Spring 2015 IFA Lecture)

According to the psychologist William Cain of Yale University USA, the 21st Century will be the 'era of scent':

"We'll gain tremendous understanding of the basic, neurophysiological ways in which odors regulate the body and influence the mind … and we will be able to influence behaviour, modulate mood and alleviate pain…”

Stress in the form of anxiety, depression, fear and hyper-tension are amongst the most common problems encountered today in our urban orientated life-styles. Yet it is only now that the real value of 'positive thinking' and the 'feel good ' factor on the health of the entire human organism and as a way of combatting these debilitating states of mind is beginning to be appreciated within the scientific domain. In her ground breaking research into the value of cultivating positive emotional states such as joy, gratitude or a sense of contentment, Barbara L. Fredrickson from the Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, argues that it is only now that science is only beginning to explore these undervalued human resources:

“Relative to the negative emotions, positive emotions have received little attention. …. Although positive emotions do at times pose problems (e.g. mania, drug addiction), these problems have often assumed lower priority among psychologists and emotion researchers.

Joy, for instance, creates the urge to play, push the limits and be creative; urges evident not only in social and physical behaviour, but also in intellectual and artistic behaviour.

Interest, a phenomenologically distinct positive emotion, creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process.

Contentment, a third distinct positive emotion, creates the urge to sit back and savour current life circumstances, and integrate these circumstances into new views of self and of the world.

Love—viewed as an amalgam of distinct positive emotions (e.g. joy, interest and contentment) experienced within the context of safe, close relation- ships—creates recurring cycles of urges to play with, explore and savour our loved ones.“

In her work she underscores the ways in which positive emotions, such as joy, interest, contentment and love are essential elements of optimal functioning, and therefore an essential topic within the science of well-being. She argues that people should cultivate positive emotions in their own lives and in the lives of those around them, not just because doing so makes them feel good in the moment, but also because doing so transforms people for the better and sets them on paths toward flourishing and healthy longevity.

“ … when positive emotions are in ample supply, people take off. They become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility and beautifully complex. The broaden-and-build theory conveys how positive emotions move people forward and lift them to the higher ground of optimal well-being.”

In the Buddhist tradition, the value of cultivating a positive mental attitude has always been recognized as the supreme method for promoting good health and the happiness of both oneself and others. The so-called ‘four immeasurables’ to be cultivated in the classic Buddhist mind trainings of joy, loving kindness, compassion and equanimity bear a remarkable resemblance to Barbara Fredrickson’s four positive mind traits of joy, interest, contentment and love.

Once we come to recognize the value of a positive mood state on our overall health,then we can appreciate that this is an area where natural aromatics can have a marked degree of success, simply via inhalation, as ‘mood enhancers’, ’pain suppressors’ and to enhance a general sense of ‘well-being’. For example, the scent of jasmine , is known in the East as the ‘perfume of love’ … as it produces a marked uplifting and aphrodisiac effect! According to Marcel Lavabre, it ‘releases inhibition, liberates imagination and develops exhilarating playfulness…” where he uses much the same language as Barbara Fredrickson in her analysis of the positive mood state of joy.

Another traditional and well-known oil, which has a profound effect on the heart and emotions is rose, a complex aromatic compound which has over 400 constituents. Rose has an age-old reputation for its association with passion and love due to it’s beautiful, rich and intoxicating fragrance. In a psycho-aromatherapy context it is considered very valuable therapeutically for emotional states involving depression, grief, loneliness or loss having a pronounced comforting effect, as if somehow cushioning the individual against the world in a warm embrace.

In fact, many of the floral absolutes such as ylang ylang, neroli, champaca, narcissus, and immortelle tend to induce a somewhat heady or euphoric mental effect, especially in large doses … as do nutmeg & bay laurel. These are just a few examples of some essential oils which can influence our mood and enhance our sense of well-being.