Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happiness is a Perfume

Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others
without getting a few drops on yourself.

Does that sound like something you read on a smiley-face inspirational poster? You’re not alone.

Lots of people attribute this saying to writer and motivational speaker Og Mandino. Joel Weiss does so in his book The Quotable Manager: Inspiration for Business and Life (2006). So do Patrick Combs and Jack Canfield in Major in Success (2007). In addition, lots of web sites credit Mandino as the author.

Mandino did, in fact, use the line in at least two of his books: A Better Way to Live (1990) and The Choice (1984).

There’s only one problem. The quote also appeared in the Illinois Medical Journal in 1916 and in Character Lessons in American Biography, published in 1909. Og Mandino was born in 1923.

So if Og Mandino didn’t write it, who did?

According to The Forbes Book of Business Quotations by Edward C. Goodman and Ted Goodman (1997), the original author was Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Goodmans may have followed the lead of William Gardiner who in Getting a Foothold (1927) gave Emerson as the source. Indeed, “happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself” has the signature sappiness and declarative form of the maxims Emerson (1803-1882) used to lard his speeches and essays.

There’s only one problem. Neither the Goodmans or Gardiner (or anyone else making the claim that I have seen) provides a citation to Emerson's work. Despite research in the library among Emerson’s collected works and dictionaries of proverbs, I have not been able to locate where he said it or anything like it.

But wait—there’s an older version of this saying:
Happiness is a perfume that one cannot shed over another
without a few drops falling on oneself.
Here “shed over” replaces “pour,” and “a few drops falling on oneself” replaces “getting a few drops on yourself.”

The older version was popular on “gems of wisdom” pages in periodicals such as Arthur’s Home Magazine (1863) and Godey’s Magazine (1867). It also appeared in newsletters of religious groups such as the Society of Friends (1865), the Methodist Episcopal Church (1857), and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (1913).

But here’s the odd thing: while it turns up at least fourteen times between 1857 and 1913 it never appears with an attribution to Emerson (or anyone else for that matter).

So where did the old version of “happiness is a perfume” come from?

As far as I can tell, it was first printed as an anonymous item on page 147 of the October 11, 1856 issue of Punch, the satirical magazine based in London. The following year it appeared in the American edition of Punch’s Pocket-Book of Fun: Being Cuts and Cuttings from the Wit and Wisdom of Twenty-five Volumes of Punch.

In the end, I think it possible but unlikely that “happiness is a perfume” was written by Emerson, especially considering the maxim printed just below it on the original page of Punch:
There are two things a man rarely forgets—his first love
and his first cigar.
The high-minded Ralph Waldo sucking on a stogie? I think not.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Marcel Proust Gets Up My Nose

It's not like I have a personal issue with Marcel Proust--he's been dead for almost eighty-six years.  His mega-novel In Search of Lost Time may well deserve its lofty reputation, though I admit it puts me to sleep.  No, what's so wrong and so irritating is that Proust has become the undeserving poster-boy of olfactory memory.

The latest example hit the web this morning:
ScienceDaily (Oct. 17, 2008) — When French memoirist
Marcel Proust dipped a pastry into his tea, the distinctive
scent it produced suddenly opened the flood gates of his

In a series of experiments with sleeping mice, researchers
at the Duke University Medical Center . . .
First off, let's stipulate that the Duke team did a fine experiment and they are entitled to publicize it.  My beef isn't with the sleeping mice; it's with Proust's pastry and the flood gates.  

It's a complete misrepresentation of what Proust actually wrote.  Here's why.

For most of us, the magic of smell memory is that it transports us instantly to a vividly detailed, often emotionally charged scene from the past.  It's a remarkable experience.

But when the narrator of Swann's Way (a stand-in for Proust) dunks a madeleine in a cup of tea the aroma produces a vague and perplexing emotion.  He struggles for several minutes to pinpoint it.  He agonizes.  He re-dunks. This goes on for five tedious pages until the young Marcel finally recalls having had tea and madeleines as a kid.

Whatever it was Proust described, it was not the opening of flood gates, the flicking of a switch, or the sudden flash of detailed sense-memory.

On top of this, people frequently credit Proust with being the first to describe odor-evoked memory.  As I show in my book, this is a complete crock.  The vividness of smell memory was a common theme well before Proust's time.  It was written about decades earlier by such great American authors as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

So credit where credit is due.  It's time to let the bad Proust meme fade from memory.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sons of California

There’s a new Penn State cologne. The mind boggles.

Masik Collegiate Fragrances plans an entire line “inspired by” a school’s colors, mascot, landmarks, campus trees, town character, fight songs . . . you get the idea.

Next up are mostly SEC schools with lots of airtime on ESPN. Nuts. My Pac-10 gets no respect. Except for USC. Hmmm. The fragrance brief for Eau de Trojan? Leather upholstery in Daddy’s Porsche. Sunscreen. Mommy’s pearls. Doing 90 on the 110. Pete Carroll’s moisturizer. Prophylactics (nah, too obvs).

Stanfurd? Money and microchips. Freshly watered fairways. An air of general superiority.

Oregon State: The Beavers. Better not go there.

Cal Berkeley (alma mater dear). Cannabis. Tofu. Espresso at the original Peet's. Sweaty Birkenstocks. Home-brewed biodiesel. Eucalyptus. Homeless ass-crack. The grill vent at Oscar's. Street vendor incense. Cannon smoke on Tightwad Hill. Braised Bolinas kid goat with quince and saffron downstairs at Chez Panisse. The chemical toilet and parking lot dust at the Sea Breeze. Mandy Aftel's scented garden.

Got all that?  Good.  Have three trials on my desk by Monday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dreaming of Smell

Do we dream in odor? Artists and poets think so—for example, the decadent 19th century writer J.-K. Huysmans described a vivid dream sequence involving scent and color—but the question has rarely been investigated scientifically. Back at the dawn of scientific psychology an instructor at Wellesley College named Mary Whiton Calkins analyzed dream diaries kept by two volunteers over a six to eight week period. Her results, published as “Statistics of Dreams” in the American Journal of Psychology in 1893, showed that smells appear in dreams only occasionally: visual and auditory perceptions are far more common. A follow-up study at Wellesley by Sarah Weed and Florence Hallam in 1896 estimated that odors show up in 15% or less of all dreams.

It was a hundred years before the question was tackled again. In 1998, researchers at McGill University in Montreal asked 164 people whether they had ever experienced sensations of smell or taste in their dreams; 41% of women said yes, as did 35% of men. The McGill team also gave the participants a bedside log in which to write their dreams each morning. They ended up collecting 3,372 dream reports. About half of these mentioned auditory impressions but only 1% mentioned smell. The diaries also revealed a huge sex difference. As in so many other measures of odor perception, women are more tuned in than men: odorous dreams were recorded in the diaries of 20.9% of women but only 2.0% of men. It appears that dream smelling is a widespread but low frequency phenomenon: in other words, it’s something many people have experienced but not all that often.

Can odors from the real world make their way into our dreams? Since the early sleep studies of the 1950s, we have known that external stimuli such as light and sound are occasionally incorporated into dream content. Play music next to someone in the REM stage of sleep, for example, and he may dream that he is conducting an orchestra. In 1988, sleep researchers at Cal State Sacramento exposed people to a smell for five minutes during a REM episode. They woke them a minute later and asked them what they were dreaming. An odor was mentioned about 19% of the time, a rate of dream incorporation similar to other types of external stimuli.

Here’s a typical result from the study:
The subject was presented with a freshly cut lemon while
in REM sleep. The resulting dream was: “I dreamed I was
in Golden Gate Park. I was walking by some gardenias.
They were just opening. All of a sudden, I could smell the
gardenias, but they smelled like lemons instead of gardenias.
The researchers used both pleasant smells (lemon, peanut butter, roses, etc.) and unpleasant smells (match smoke, dog feces, onion, etc.). The pleasant smells were more likely to show up in dreams (on 27% of attempts) than were unpleasant ones (11% of tries). Oddly, the pleasantness of the smell had little effect on the emotional tone of the dream itself: roughly a third of all odor-stimulated dreams were unpleasant in tone.

A similar experiment was reported a few weeks ago at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology in Chicago. A German team found that unpleasant smells produced dreams with predominantly negative emotional content, while nice smells made for pleasant dreams. This yet-to-be-published result is slightly at odds with the Sacramento State finding, but one thing seems clears: The boundary between dreamscape and smellscape is porous. Scents from the real world stimulate our sleeping nose and sneak into the nighttime unreality of our dreams.

The Australian psychologists Richard Stevenson and Trevor Case examined dream smells in a questionnaire study in 2004. Of the 284 participants, 26.4% had had olfactory dreams. When descriptions of these smell dreams were analyzed about half turned out to be food related—with bacon leading the way. Smoke or burning odors appeared in 21% and body or animal odors turned up in another 21%. As in the waking world, smell sensations in dreams were briefer and more emotional than the visual experiences.

Stevenson and Case also had their volunteers fill our questionnaires on visual and olfactory mental imagery ability. (Full disclosure: the olfactory questionnaire was one I co-wrote with Melissa Crouch and Sarah Kemp and published in the Journal of Mental Imagery.) They discovered multiple links between dream smelling and smell ability in the waking world. First, olfactory dreamers experience both visual and olfactory imagery more vividly than non-olfactory dreamers. Second, people with more vivid mental imagery for smells have more vivid smell dreams. A follow-up experiment found a third link: olfactory dreamers are better at identifying odors in a smell test.

All of this suggests to me that some people are simply more tuned into odors than others. Smell-oriented people—those who identify odors accurately and imagine them vividly—tend to dream in smell as well. Olfactory talent shows itself all around the clock.