Don Draper and the Meaning of Life

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.52.38 PMYou don't need to watch AMC's Mad Men to find this post interesting( I hope, at least). That said, I very much hope you are watching this final season of this incredible show as it is especially psychologically compelling this season---so much so that I could barely contain myself after watching last week's episode, "The Forecast isn't Bright" and my psyche decided to literally dream the whole night about Joan, Don and Peggy; I only wish I could remember my dream.However, I can certainly remember the show . As the season and series is coming to a close, our hero, Don Draper is in the not so glamorous stripping away and losing everything phase of his hero's journey, and as he has just lost his ex-wife, his daughter's respect, all his furniture and now his apartment.  All of this loss is making Don wax philosophical, he is asking some seriously important questions. I believe that he is asking questions that we should, I believe, all be asking ourselves---these are Next Happy Questions.

You see, Don Draper, like me, is in the dream business, only his job in advertising has been to sell a dream, where I see mine as as therapist, to help people understand why they have the dream( both the daytime dreams of longing for something that we may spend our entire lives in pursuit of and the night time dreams that we often ignore as totally inconsequential). In my work, I want to help people figure out why they want the dream so much and to not simply accept their dreams as self-evenident and not worth exploring. I see all desires that are not meeting our basic needs as worthy of psychological exploration, whether we have a desire for a new job, a new car, cookies, or a handbag---all desires, I believe, have a deeper motive, such as for love, safety, security, validation, etc.

As Don is in the middle of losing everything he worked so hard to have, he has been given the task of writing a speech in which he has been asked to make the case for the future of his firm, this gets Don to thinking and asking questions of himself and others, questions about bigger existential issues than can be answered in a state of a union address at a company meeting in the Bahamas.   The big question of the episode that Don wants everyone to answer is, "What do you want and what do you want after that?" And, I think, more importantly is the question that comes after that is "and why do you want it? what do you hope it will give you?"

Don asks Sally and her friends what they want to be when they grow up.  He asks Ted what he sees for the future. He asks Peggy what she wants:

PEGGY: I’d like to be the first woman creative director at the agency. DON: But say you get that. What’s next? PEGGY: I’d like to land something huge. DON: And then? PEGGY: Have a big idea. Create a catchphrase. DON: So you want fame. Yes. What else? PEGGY: I don’t know. I’d like to create something of lasting value. DON: In advertising? PEGGY: Yes. DON: What else? PEGGY: I don't know DON: Yes, you do. PEGGY: Create something of lasting value. DON: In advertising? (He laughs). PEGGY:This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life. DON: So you think those things are unrelated? PEGGY: I didn't know you'd be in a mood. Why don't you just write down all of dreams so I can shit on them.

Only, the truth is, Don isn't trying to shit on her dreams. Don knows all about dreams come true. He had all his dreams come true and none of them lead to the feeling, the security, and the love that he had imagined they would lead to. Don, I believe, actually cares about Peggy and, I believe, he is truthfully wanting to disabuse her of chasing dreams that might be equally as illusory. I also think he is hoping that Peggy or Ted or someone, anyone, would give him a goal, a dream, and sell him on it and get him back into believing that there is something out there that will give him the feeling he so very much wants. I understand Peggy's reaction, she wants to hold onto that dream and believes it will give her happiness and is angry at Don for making her look at the larger reasons for why she wants those things. She will not answer his questions.  So, now I ask you:

So, what do you want?

What else do you want?

What do you hope that having that thing will give you?

These are not only Don Draper questions, these are the questions I ask of people in The Next Happy. Knowing what you wanted out of something will help you get clearer about what you really want and it will actually increase your likelihood of getting it, and when I say "it" I am not talking about the dream, I am talking about the quality you hope the dream will give you.

p.s. I have to talk about that picture above, that is Don facing the emptiness. Those two empty chairs, facing them. He is facing an empty apartment. He is facing empty relationships and empty work. I believe that if Don figures out what he really wanted from those things, grieves the loss of the dreams, and gives himself time before jumping into a rebound relationship or rebound goal that he too will find his Next Happy. If only I could send the book back to 1969.