August 4, 2020

Grumpy Old People: A Stereotype or a Myth?

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 a mistake to ask him about the government or taxes, and your ears will burn for a week. Not wearing a face mask? I'm not saying anything to him. British author Carol Wyer has a name for it: "irritable male syndrome." He is not living a very satisfying retirement.

The reasons behind this phenomenon have been raised more than once by readers. 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, 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 it 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 propel 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 causes may include a steady decline in testosterone levels that can produce this harmful mood effect.

It is fair to give everyone a bit of a pass on grumpiness now; a pandemic would make even Mister Rogers frown and snap at Danial Striped Tiger. It is hard to not lash out at something after the roller coaster ride we have been on since March.

Let me speculate on some possible triggers. Retirement can send many a man over the edge. With fewer friends than women, men can have little social interaction after work and 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.

Oh, and before you accuse me of sexism, there are grumpy old women, too. I have met plenty in my time. Even my charm has no effect. Many of the factors that may affect a man, fit the female profile, too. Grumpiness does not play favorites.

As the reader's 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 or estrogen after 50 are real. The effects are well documented. Overall, health and relationship issues must contribute to the potential for a less-then-sunny mood. The awareness of one's own mortality can be a rude awakening for anyone.

At the same time, I believe attitude can be a significant 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 a 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.

August 1, 2020

I'm Still Standing

Since the first of the year, I have written about some subjects that aren't strictly retirement oriented: climate change, gun control, impeachment, and spirituality among others. For the last several months, Covid-19 has been the topic more often than not.

When I decided to expand from my "safe" zone of topics, there was an acceptance of the chance I was taking. There would be occasional topics that can provoke strong emotions. There was a real possibility that regular readers would go somewhere else to find their retirement fix.

Well, that hasn't happened. While the overall readership on a month-to-month basis is down a bit from last year, there has been no mass exodus. A few disgruntled readers have canceled subscriptions. Surprisingly, the posts on climate change, impeachment, food waste, and being on the wrong side of history had a higher-than-usual readership. My thoughts on gun control did not result in calls for my being run out of town on a rail. How my religious views have evolved were well accepted. 

So, I would judge the gamble has been worth any blowback the blog has endured. There have been very few comments that I have had to delete. Some people who have never left comments before have appeared on these pages. I have discovered some seriously scary web sites run by people whose comments never saw the light of day but have given me a glimpse into their alternative world.

The response to the variety of topics has proven that once someone retires, all they care about is their money, where to go on vacation, or how to make a house safer, is not even remotely true. Those are vital subjects for posts that have been covered in the past and will continue to make their way onto these pages.

But, we are a much more complicated group of people than that. We remain committed to interacting with the world, in all its mystery, silliness, and danger. Always searching for ways to use our talents and skills, we want to improve our lives, and of those we love. Importantly, the pandemic has shown us to be a group that cares about others and is not afraid to call out those who are working against the common good.

We have shown we are adaptable. The cruise vacation can't happen? We find another way to interact with different people and ideas. Planes are a no-go danger zone for now. Guess what? Road trips and RV rentals are excellent replacements.

Will we actively reengage with the rest of the world when it is safe to do so? Maybe. Maybe not. We may have readjusted our goals and aspirations. 

Retirement is not the time of life to retreat, close down our minds and experiences. It is not when we should decide to simply build walls and protect what is ours. 

Hopefully, Satisfying Retirement in A Changing World is one of the voices that supports the new way of retiring and living. Thank you for being part of the family.