Ten years ago I set out to find framework for a happier life. Testing the wisdom of the ages with scientific researchI learned how strengthen my relationships, increase energy and more.
But a few years ago I started noticing that I felt stuck in my head — disconnected from others and from myself.
Suddenly I realized that I was treating my body like a car that my brain was driving around town. But it was actually my body – through my five senses – it was my essential link with the world.
I didn’t want to come to the end of my life and think, “So many things have happened to me. I would have liked to pay attention to it.
While writing my book, “Life in the five senses”, I’ve discovered surprising ways our senses can help us focus more deeply, to live longer and create happiness.
1. Need a burst of energy and joy? Use your sense of smell.
When you need a quick lift, you can indulge in beautiful smells by taking a deep drag on clean towels at home or fine woods at a hardware store.
With a fragrance, you cannot bookmark, rewind, store, or save it for later. It binds you to the present moment and, at the same time, can transport you to your past.
The smell of eucalyptus, for example, always reminds me of the 10 beautiful months I spent in San Francisco.
Smells can also stimulate awareness. When I left my building one fine morning, I received several updates from the neighborhood: It was garbage day; the food cart on the corner was frying bacon; and a passerby was enjoying early marijuana.
2. Stressed? Use your sense of touch.
Items like pop toys, fidget spinners, and therapy dough can help us feel calmer.
A friend told me, “My aunt works in palliative care, and they just placed a big order for some light, cuddly throws. It’s really comforting for people to touch something soft and warm.
I have my own idiosyncratic way of using my sense of touch. When I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, like being backstage before giving a big speech, I hold a pen.
3. Do you feel distracted and unproductive? Use your sense of sound.
I have found that the more I can control my surroundings, the less disturbed I am by stray noises.
When I took my laptop to a small neighborhood library to write in its quiet study room, for example, I was distracted by someone’s cough. But when I was working in a busy cafe, the conversations around me helped me focus. The whirring mixer didn’t bother me either.
Just as you periodically sweep your home to eliminate clutter, you can also eliminate noise.
Ask your partner to use headphones during video calls if you’re both working from home. Or, to reduce unwanted calls, register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry.
4. Need a creative spark? Use your sense of sight.
When I need inspiration, I try to spot the little details. During my daily walks, instead of getting lost in my thoughts, I give myself homework: Look for the color purple, or the trees, or the hats.
I was studying the materials of the different apartment buildings. One was made of dark red-brown bricks, the next of white bricks, the next of yellowish smooth stone slabs. I had walked these blocks hundreds of times and had never noticed the lag before.
The more I watched, the more the habit developed. I found more beauty – in the startling orange tweed of a woman’s coat, in a flock of birds circling above my head – and I also found more whimsy.
5. Want to feel closer to others? Use your sense of taste.
Enjoying unique foods and flavors with other people is one of the oldest and most universal human customs.
To connect more with people, I organized a “Taste Party”. Together, my friends and I rated varieties of apples, chocolates, and chips. We tasted ketchup to detect the five basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. We remembered the sweets we ate as children.
It was extremely fun. We weren’t just socializing; we were sharing a sensory experience and it made us all laugh. Our conversations were unusually warm and intimate.
My exploration of the five senses has transformed my life. Every day, I tap into their power to connect to ordinary moments I want to experience and remember – and I’ll never take ketchup for granted again.
Gretchen Rubin is a happiness researcher and bestselling author of “The Happiness Project.” His most recent book is “Life in the Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Mind and Into the World.” She is also the host of the popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubinand founder of the award-winning company Happier app. Follow her on Twitter And instagram.