What is “sense hacking” and how does it work?

Everyone loves a hack. Especially a scientifically backed one. “Sense Hacking” is the process of optimising our sensory input through sounds or smells to make us feel happier, relaxed and more productive.

What is “sense hacking” and how does it work?
Want to feel more relaxed? Focused? Happier? Well ‘hacking’ your senses could be a strategy to implement into your daily routine to reach your goals. By manipulating your surroundings, you can stimulate your senses to enhance your wellbeing. From motivating playlists to energise us or colours to calm us, understanding how our senses interact with our surroundings could be the key to a happier, healthier life.

What is “sense hacking”?

Sense hacking is the conscious effort to adjust sensory stimuli (smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch) in order to make us feel happier, more productivity, and boost overall wellbeing. The right sounds, smells and ambience can motivate us or calm us. The more we become aware of our senses, the more impact it can have on our overall wellbeing. You probably have felt the effects of sense hacking without knowing it - putting on a running playlist or lighting candles to relax in the evening with some chilled out music.

How sense hacking works

There’s a plethora of studies that support sense hacking and the benefits of tapping into our senses to influence emotions. For example, exposure to natural landscapes can lower stress hormones, and the aromas such as lavender can promote feelings of calm. Colour phycology can also help reduce stress, for example the colour blue is connected to feelings of calm - which is why we feel more at ease when we look at, or immerse ourselves in water or looking up at a blue sky.
Explored in depth by Oxford University Professor, Charles Spence, in his book Sensehacking: How To Use The Power Of Your Senses For Happier, Healthy Living, he describes sense hacking as way of using our sensory perception to live a healthier lifestyle. By being more aware of how we receive information through senses of taste, sight, smell, sound and touch we can be happier, more productive, motivated.

The benefits of sense hacking

  1. Stress Reduction: Tweaking sensory stimuli, such as immersing yourself in nature can help lower cortisol levels stress hormones like cortisol
  1. Enhanced Productivity: Certain colours and sounds can boost your focus and productivity, such as green plants and lo-fi music
  1. Mood Improvement: From uplifting scents to mood-boosting foods, sense hacking provides various ways to make you feel happier.
  1. Better Sleep: Adjusting the lighting, scent, and sound in your bedroom can contribute to a better night's sleep, helping you wake up refreshed and ready for the day.
  1. Healthier Relationships: Sensory stimuli like touch can promote emotional bonding, improving your relationships with loved ones.
“Many of us complain of sensory overload; tired of being bombarded by too much noise, too much information, too many distractions – as technology advances, it’s only going to get worse. We don’t complain of having to deal with too many smells, too much touch or an overabundance of taste”
Charles Spence

How can you practice sense hacking?

Here's how you can start harnessing the power of your senses and ‘hack’ your senses to help you feel happier, calmer or more productive.

🤲 Touch

Sometimes, all you need is a hug. Physical touch can release oxytocin, the "love hormone," and lower stress levels. Studies confirm the power of touch in reducing stress, and how human connection can boost our mood. Other ways to ‘hack’ into touch is by taking a cold shower or cold plunge which can boost your endorphins and dopamine levels. Or if you prefer warm baths, getting into a bath about 90 minutes before bed can help you feel relaxed and help you sleep better.

👀 Sight

Your choice of colours and visuals around you can have a profound impact on your mood through colour psychology. For example, blue shades are known to boost creativity and make you feel calm, which is why heading to expanses of water, or looking up at the sky (called ‘skychology’) can make you feel less stressed. It’s also helpful for you to create aesthetic surroundings in your home to help you feel relaxed or decluttering your workspace to boost productivity.

👃 Smell

Aromatherapy is a prime example of sense hacking with smell. A whiff of lavender or eucalyptus oil can reduce anxiety and stress and boost how we feel. This is because they stimulate neurons that control systems that are responsible for our emotions. Using candles or essential oils in a bath can create a soothing environment that will boost your mood.


Natural sounds such as flowing water, birdsong or rainfall have been linked to feelings of relaxation and increased focus. Natural soundscapes physically alter our brains’ neural pathways, helping us reach a calmer state of mind. So why not try playing a nature soundtrack, or even white noise, whilst you’re working to boost your productivity. Music also plays a pivotal role in sense hacking. Whether it's an upbeat playlist to boost your workout performance or calming tunes for a better night's sleep, the right kind of music can dramatically influence your mood and activities.c

👅 Taste

Your taste buds can also be a gateway to improved wellbeing. Certain foods are known to boost serotonin, often referred to as the "happiness hormone” - especially if it sparks some nostalgia or tastes really fresh. Taking time to eat and enjoy the flavours is more beneficial for enjoyment and happiness than eating on the go.
By tapping into your senses and being more aware of them, you can use them to your advantage. If you want to feel more relaxed, more productive, sleep better or motivate yourself on a run - you can use sense hacking to create the best environment to reach your goals. In a busy world filled with technology, we are constantly being overloaded with information. By tuning out of the distractions, and into your senses and surroundings, you can live a happier and healthier life.

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