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.