Easing Along

Becoming a grumpy old person: Is it inevitable?

Grumpy old men

A few months ago, I asked Bob Lowry, creator of the very informative website A Satisfying Retirement to scan his archives and see if he could find an article or two that Easin’ Along readers might enjoy. One of the articles that Bob sent related to me in a very meaningful way. I think you will find his thoughts interesting and I offer them in the paragraphs below along with a few personal notes on this subject.  

We are familiar with this personality type: the cranky old man. He is a stock character in movies, cartoons, and TV shows.  He seems to dislike everybody and everything. Step on his lawn or get in his way at the store and you will know it. Make the mistake to ask him about the government or taxes and your ears will burn for a week.  British author Carol Wyer has a name for it: “irritable male syndrome.” He is not living a very satisfying retirement.

While working on my book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, a question was raised more than once that is worth thinking about. Here is how one contributor posed the question that gets to the heart of the issue:

“Why it does it seem like so many “old” people become bitter and negative, and then you have those “rare” old people who are enthusiastic about life, stay positive and keep fit. Is that something the positive-minded person has to really work hard at? Did they make a deliberate decision to not complain about their aches and pains, and to see the world as a beautiful place? Or is this how they were all their life?”

Nothin’s right anymore!

Importantly, remember that this question was not asked by someone in his or her 20’s or 30’s. This came from someone in their 50’s or 60’s, and therefore I assume is a concern in his or her own life. Do we all end up inflexible and intolerant?  Does the prospect of losing the ability to drive, or to stay in one’s home cause most of us to put a scowl on our face?

I am sure there are all sorts of research studies and physiological reasons why this “grumpy old man” attitude strikes. Medical reasons may include a steady decline in testosterone levels that can produce this bad mood effect.

Angry about technology?

Let me speculate on some other possible triggers. Retirement can send many a man over the edge. With fewer friends than women, men have little social interaction after work and can become isolated and depressed. Certainly, the loss of a spouse could turn someone into a genuinely unhappy person. The loss of physical or mental capabilities has the potential to leave us bitter. We may remember the “good old days” as a time when the government seemed to work more smoothly, young people were more respectful, and doctors made house calls.

Or, as the question implies, is the crankiness due more to attitude than reality? Are unhappy seniors just an older version of how they were when younger? Can people make a conscious effort to not fall into the complaint trap as they age? If there is a medical cause will that person seek some help?

My personal opinion is the cause is a combination of factors. The declining levels of testosterone after 60 are real. The effects are well documented. Overall, health and relationship issues must contribute to the potential for a less-than-sunny mood. The awareness of one’s own mortality can be a rude awakening for someone.

At the same time, I believe attitude can be a major factor in preventing a full slippage into grumpiness. I don’t mean the type of “everything is great, the glass is always at least half full” attitude. Denying what is happening in your life isn’t the answer.

Maybe acceptance is a better word. No one gets out of here alive. Virtually all of us will suffer from some of the unpleasant realities of the aging process. To be grumpy and rude really says that person is too self-absorbed. We all have aches and pains, we all lose family and friends, we all face the loss of our ability to drive. To make everyone around you uncomfortable or unhappy is really saying, “It is all about me. My problems are worse than yours and that gives me the right to lash out.”

Actually, it doesn’t.

Note: Within a few weeks of receiving this article, I noticed that I, too, had become unusually grumpy—even downright irritable and nasty at times.  At first, I passed it off as an issue related to not sleeping well which is something that I’ve struggled with for several years.  I also felt that it might be tied to age-related lower testosterone levels and made a note to have it checked at some point. The condition persisted until I spoke with my physician about my moods and my irritability.  After some discussion, he said that it could be related to mild depression and suggested that I try a tiny dose of prescription medication to see if it made a difference.  The results were astounding. Within a few days, I had returned to the person I once knew as a “lovable fuzzball”. I was reluctant to share this information but thought that if there are other “grumpy” types out there, this information might prod them to have it checked out.  Take it from me…the change made Easin’ Along the retired road a lot more pleasant.


Thanks again to Bob Lowry.

11 thoughts on “Becoming a grumpy old person: Is it inevitable?

  1. Bob Lowry

    I am glad you found the article helpful and interesting for your readers.

    In full disclosure mode, I also talked to my doctor a few years ago about some mild depression. Like you, Joe, I started on a small dose of a “happy pill.” Within just a few days my small cloud had been lifted. Admitting the problem was the first step to a solution.

    1. jobruner01 Post author

      Your article was well written a thorough presentation of a situation encountered by many of us senior citizens. I am grateful to you for sharing both the article and your experience with this condition. I’m certain that there are many out there who would benefit greatly by talking to a professional when things like mood and attitude don’t seem to be quite right. Thanks, Bob.

  2. Susan Blair

    Thanks for sharing this article! Although I can’t qualify as a grumpy old man, I will share that I started taking happy pills about a month before my transplant in 2012 and still take them. I’m a believer!

    1. jobruner01 Post author

      Susan, I too have joined the ranks of the believers and am grateful that you shared this with us. The stuff works darn well!


    I’m certain that this is just me but I found it a little bit disconcerting that many of you take ‘happy pills’ in your retirement years. I have a friend who also just recently told me that she has been taking ‘happy pills’ ever since she hit her 60’s a few years ago. I used to wonder why my friend never had any reaction to what I was telling her nor did she ever get upset over anything. Sorry, but this seems to be un-authentic to me. Feelings and emotions, regardless of how negative it might be, need to be expressed. Not suppressed. But as I said, this is just me and my opinion. Taking ‘happy pills’ IMO is like cheating life…..even if just a smidge.
    Just my two cents.

    1. jobruner01 Post author

      Alicia, Your “two cents” are always welcome. I value your opinion and thank you very much for taking the time to comment. After my diagnosis, I was very reluctant about taking the medication. I have an aversion to prescription medicines and take only one other medication to control acid reflux. Nevertheless, my irritability persisted and something had to change. Depression had impacted my life on many levels. It robbed me of my grandmother who drifted in and out of depression during my teen years and long before modern medicine developed methods to treat the illness. A former business partner and great friend refused to take medicine prescribed for depression because he wanted to remain “normal”, and ended up taking his life. Recently, a very intelligent and talented member of our church abandoned his treatment which resulted in the same tragic outcome. I agree wholeheartedly that feelings and emotions should be expressed and I am deeply grateful that I am now able to express all of mine, not just the angry ones. I don’t look upon this tiny dose of medicine as a “happy pill” necessarily…but it does allow me to smile more often.

      Thanks so much for visiting Easin’ Along and sharing your thoughts. Please come back whenever you can.

    2. Bob Lowry

      Alicia, I respectfully disagree that seeking medical help for a treatable condition is cheating life. Actually, taking a small dose of a mood moderator on occasion has allowed me to enjoy more of what retirement life has to offer as well as improve the quality of my interactions with loved ones.

      Depression is like any other medical or emotional problem except too few people will admit to it. I wouldn’t hesitate to treat my acid reflux problems with medicines and pills. Mild depression is no different. The pills don’t make me unnaturally “happy,” they level out my natural moods so I am happy and sad, positive and negative, when appropriate, just like everyone else.

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