There’s a scene in Mad Men, a truly great television series, when Don Draper is pitching an advertising idea to a prospective client. The product is a slide show carousel, a revolutionary device at the time that allowed private photographs to be shared with a wider audience. Draper explains that the Greek word for nostalgia means “the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
The slick advertising man becomes choked with emotion as he presents slides from his recent past – his wedding day, the birth of his children, and pictures from happy family vacations. The client is dumbstruck at the power of the presentation. Draper has taken a simple device and given it heart and soul. A fellow adman is forced to leave the room to hide his tears.
The scene’s brilliance is contained within a boundless complexity. The viewer knows that Draper is living a lie. He is not even Don Draper, the identity was stolen from a dead soldier. The rest of his life is also a well-constructed lie. Draper is successful imposter who plays happy family man while philandering at every opportunity. His mother was a whore and his childhood was devoid of love and affection. He appears to use sexual relations with a carousel of women to fill a deep void within his soul. But he is also the master salesman, and his presentation is a moment of genius. His lies are yet to unravel, but they will, and that is what elevates Mad Men above standard television fare.
Nostalgia is a worthy exercise. Indulge it sometime. Pull out an old photo album and study a young version of yourself, when your bright eyes brimmed with wonder and excitement. The world was a magical place just waiting to be explored and discovered.
Play some music from the period in your life when possibilities seemed limitless. Nothing was going to stop you. You were at university, soaking up information like a sponge. The world was your oyster. Your impending greatness was all but inevitable. You were young and itching to get started.
Relive those days for a while. Turn the lights out, play the soundtrack to your carefree youth, and feel the searing pain of nostalgia as it grips your chest.
Life is a constant search for meaning and purpose. A cruel mix of suffering and setbacks interrupted by moments of joy.