As Don Draper’s story draws to a close, it’s time to look back on the life lessons we learned from Mad Men and the era that spawned the series.
The Lessons We Learned from Mad Men
After seven seasons, Mad Men airs its final episode this Sunday.
Set in the 1960s, Mad Men shined a spotlight on the decadence, greed and questionable decision-making that characterized the early advertising industry and the lives of the people who worked at the fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper.
But look beyond the characters’ personal flaws and the groovy sixties zeitgeist, and there are lessons we learned from Mad Men that remind us about the spiritual virtues of simple living and what a life well-lived actually looks like.
1. Your job won’t make you happy.
There were very few things the people at Sterling Cooper wouldn’t do to advance their careers or land the next big client.
But as the awards and accolades piled up, their personal lives crumbled. Eventually, many of the characters experienced an aha! moment:
They realized that their jobs didn’t — and couldn’t — make them happy.
Let’s face it: some jobs are better than others. But we learned from Mad Men is that if you’re looking to achieve ultimate fulfillment and happiness from your career, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.
2. Money doesn’t solve your problems.
Sterling Cooper made people rich. And not just a little rich. It made them Cadillac-driving, bespoke-suit-wearing, penthouse-on-Park-Avenue kind of rich.
But the size of their problems seemed to increase proportionate to the size of their net worth.
We like to think that money can solve our problems. We learned from Mad Men that it can’t.
If your bank account is big enough, you can send your kids to boarding school or smooth over the rough spots of a loveless marriage with expensive jewelry.
But when the smoke clears, money won’t save you. To solve your problems, you need to be spiritually grounded and willing to put in the hard work it takes to build and maintain healthy relationships.
3. Smoking really is bad for you.
Poor Betty. [SPOILER ALERT!] In last week’s penultimate episode, we discovered that Don’s ex-wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer after decades of smoking. A tragedy? You bet. But unfortunately, it’s not surprising.
After all, it was the sixties, and cigarettes and cocktails were around the clock accessories for the people of the Mad Men universe.
A lot of us take our physical health for granted. But you’re not invincible and unhealthy habits eventually take their toll. At Betty’s expense, we learned from Mad Men that caring for your body is an important part of living a well-rounded life.
4. You can’t hide who you are.
One of Mad Men’s series-long story arcs revolved around Don Draper’s fluid identity. If you’re a fan of the show, you know that Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper. Born Dick Whitman, he assumed Don Draper’s identity during the Korean War.
Strip away the drama, and the story of Don Draper is the story of a man struggling to come terms with who he is.
Spiritual simplicity begins with the search for who we really are. Rampant consumerism, wastefulness, environmental irresponsibility — these are the inevitable byproducts of our attempts to re-create our identities around shallow and profane things.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned us that divided kingdoms and cities and households ultimately fail. You can’t live two lives at the same time. To live simply, you need to search for your true identity and when you find it, allow it to change the way you live your life.
5. There’s always hope.
No matter how it ends for Don Draper, it’s important to remember that Mad Men was often a hopeful show. Time after time, when the odds were stacked against them, the people of Sterling Cooper believed they could beat the odds and they did.
One of the most valuable lessons we learned from Mad Men was that hope is a powerful spiritual resource. We all experience hardships and struggles and challenges. Without hope, life’s obstacles can feel overwhelming. But with just a little hope in your corner, the sky is the limit.
We learned from Mad Men that there’s always hope for Don Draper. And if there’s hope for Don, there’s hope for you, too.