Are you a victim of 'musturbation'?

SAFETY STIR: Cricketer Shane Warne.
SAFETY STIR: Cricketer Shane Warne.

A month before I plunged into mid-life, a teenager stabbed my two-year-old daughter in the head with a five-pronged fishing spear.

Four hours of a chopper ride and unspoken funeral preparations later, an X-ray showed the prongs lodged 3mm from her brain.

The surgeon removed them two hours later, we were deliriously happy and everyone said how lucky we were.

And I lived happily ever after.

Except . . .

I chucked a Warney (to the extent that any ugly, fat, talentless, poor, middle-aged bloke can).

Like me, Warney began his midlife crisis as the big 4-0 approached.

He did everything to try to stay young and successful. Dumped his wife, had a makeover, recharged the lethal spinning finger.

I, on the other hand, lost it.

Coming a few years after the loss of both my parents, the spear drove home the fragility of life. With youthful indestructibility punctured, I ran like hell to escape the mortality demons within me.

In the space of a year I unseated the school parents' association president, had kid number five, worked like hell, got a book published then ditched my job in the city to go bush - couldn't afford the Porsche.

And I became one very, inconsolably sad 40-something.

It took six months to realise the tree change mistake. All seven of us plus the dog and the Granges and the 1966 guitar headed back to the big smoke. (The two goldfish had died.)

We had no money. Strangers were in our house. It rained for months. People said, "Smile, why don't you!" Piss off, why don't you.

I didn't want to get out of bed. Stopped doing what I love. Found little fun with the kids. Started a uni course - and left, broke. Got four new jobs and quit them.

So I did what any intelligent bloke would do.

(Now you write the next sentence using the words self-medicate, alcohol, tablets and "let's get the band back together".)

No matter what I did, everything became darker.

Eventually I realised that this "midlife crisis" wasn't going to go away by itself.

Unlike many men, I sought help. I was soon learning how to mystically massage my temples to stop feeling sad (but that didn't work). Read self-help happiness books (neither did they).

I reluctantly agreed to hypnosis and discovered a simple answer: stop pretending to be invincible and just go back to doing what you love.

So I surfed, talked crap about music, told dad jokes, spoke out on politics and culture, stood up for underdogs and, above all, was a big pain in the arse.

Many middle-aged men like me are victims of the happiness self-delusion, believing you can have never-ending career success, wealth, travel and sex three times a day AS LONG AS YOU SMILE.

I even wrote a book about surviving midlife. Received an advance from the publisher and everything.

But, you guessed it, the publisher wanted joy and rainbows on a stick, whereas I dished up 40-Something Lessons for Hopeless Blokes.

The manuscript had a big kick at the happiness industry.

Eight years on, so does Oliver Burkeman, a Yank who has written a much better anti-self help book than I ever will.

In The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, Burkeman ropes in the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome to begin an uplifting journey through the happiness ripoff.

"The effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable," he writes, citing the Buddhist view that the true path to contentment is to "enjoy uncertainty, embrace insecurity and even learn to value death".

Whereas my tome made jokes about '70s punk and pram envy, Burkeman uses real psychological concepts such as Albert Ellis's "musturbation" - the dangerous notion that we must have absolutely everything and that if we don't it's absolutely terrible.

Channelling Japanese psychologist Shona Morita, Burkeman points out how much mental energy we waste in an impossible attempt to make our lives trouble free.

And best of all, Burkeman quotes that old Stoic Epictetus: "Every time you kiss your child goodnight, you should specifically consider the possibility that she might die tomorrow. (It) will make you love her all the more, while reducing the shock should that awful eventuality ever come to pass."

Such is life . . .

- Sydney Morning Herald

Have you had a mid-life crisis? How did you deal with it?