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?”
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.
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.