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April 14, 2014 11:02 AM   Subscribe

The approximate moment when grumpiness kicks in for men is around age 70. Researchers found that as men grow older — from, say, 50 on — they have fewer obstacles and annoyances to worry about in life and, furthermore, they are more equipped to deal with adversity. But around age 70, life — or at least the perception of happiness — begins to go downhill.

The study, published in the March 2014 issue of Psychology and Aging, examined 1,315 men — mostly military veterans who participated in a 15-year survey — between the ages of 53 and 85. Some 80 percent said that at age 50, life became easier. About 20 percent said they were happier after they retired.

Both groups, however, agreed that good feelings about life began to decline at age 70 — for myriad reasons, including health problems, cognitive slide and the losses of loved ones.

No mention is made of the grumpiness of the people forced to interact with the old men.
posted by arcticseal (97 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
How does this fit in with the claim that life is U-shaped? I was looking forward to it being U-shaped.
posted by johngoren at 11:08 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


My are. I've been grumpy since I was 20.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:08 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


Metafilter, you have about 6.4 more years with me before I start to get grumpy, according to this.

Enjoy (for now).
posted by Danf at 11:09 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


More proof of the theory: Grumpy Old Men, film, released December, 1993. Walter Matthau, 73; Jack Lemmon, 68.

(living in a world without Matthau/Lemmon has made me grumpy)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:11 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


Researchers found that as men grow older — from, say, 50 on — they have fewer obstacles and annoyances to worry about in life...

Um...bullshit. My 50's, at least for me, has been when obstacles and annoyances seemed to explode.

examined 1,315 men — mostly military veterans who participated in a 15-year survey...

That seems to me to be a relatively unique group to base a study on, which purports to represent all men.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:11 AM on April 14 [31 favorites]


GET OFF MY LAWN!
posted by nostrada at 11:11 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


Men in that age group also seem to have a much higher suicide rate, FWIW.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:13 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Am I to understand there's more to life than obstacles and annoyances?
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:14 AM on April 14 [55 favorites]


Odd coincidence: I just starting reading Ageing, Spirituality, and Well-being this morning. I'm trying to provide for myself what Proust calls a "fruitful old-age," not to mention that dealing with older folks is definitely a growth industry.
posted by No Robots at 11:15 AM on April 14


Am I to understand there's more to life than obstacles and annoyances?

What, have you completed all of the vile tasks?
posted by thelonius at 11:15 AM on April 14 [10 favorites]


A few thoughts on this:

One of the really difficult things about conducting valid age studies is that they must confound factors since age is a function of time and is therefore not variable. So in this study, for example, they confound age with cohort. That means that the fact they were mostly veterans (as well as influenced by similar socio-historical factors) may also have a huge impact on this study.

How does this fit in with the claim that life is U-shaped?

Most life-span psychologists do think life tends to follow a U-shape, and this study would confirm that to a degree, as it shows an increase in happiness after retirement/children have left. Notice however that the men start getting grumpy around age 70. Considering that the avg life expectancy for a male in the US is about 77, that would seem to align about right regarding the onset of Terminal Drop, or the decline in happiness and cognitive function that occurs about 5 years before death.

The other factor is that many life-span psychologists view the end of life as a time where you either maintain integrity or enter despair. This is caused by the integrating people tend to do as they near death - they either feel that their life has a sort of completeness, a general narrative, and are satisfied, or they enter into a sort of despair. Despair is surprisingly not uncommon, especially among men, who tend to report greater unhappiness in old age.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:16 AM on April 14 [14 favorites]


boy am I ahead of schedule.
posted by mwhybark at 11:17 AM on April 14 [26 favorites]


I'd imagine that, for many men, it is the indignity of old age that is intolerable.
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on April 14 [17 favorites]


I maybe the only regular reader and poster over 70--so fuck off with any comments that do not reflect deference and a deep respect for your elders. Actually my contentment and happiness in life has not been U shaped but on a steady upward slope since 45. My Very Best to All--I love the diversity, wit, caring and compassion of so many of you. Just got a correction--apparently I am bested by several others.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:18 AM on April 14 [40 favorites]


How does this fit in with the claim that life is U-shaped?
Maybe it's just more u than u.
posted by Flunkie at 11:18 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I maybe the only regular reader and poster over 70

There's one over 80, iirc.
posted by thelonius at 11:20 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine that, for many men, it is the indignity of old age that is intolerable.

And studies have shown that to a degree as well, but it may also be a cohort function to some degree. As gender roles shift, this may change as well. The fact that older white men are a very high risk group for suicide also seems to belie this idea that as soon as you aren't able to do Man Things (taking care of your family, etc.), your happiness declines rapidly.

It's interesting most older women report an increase in their happiness after their husbands die.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:23 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


My own completely unscientific observation is that most grumpy old men have been honing their grumpcraft for decades before the age of 70.

(The headline is good for lulz, but I do wonder what the study classified as "good feelings about life" and how specific those criteria were to military service. And were the subjects mostly career military men? And so on... )
posted by usonian at 11:32 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I was just remarking to someone the other day (who had posted a photo of himself at 32, looking triumphant in a pub, smoking a cigar and surrounded by attractive young women), that the age of 30-something is fucking awesome. What was left unsaid was that, depending on different conditions, life can become less awesome after that. At age 32 I felt invincible, on top of the world baby.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Well, I figure that the age I'm at is the only time I have, so I'd best make the most of it. That said, my 40s were both a triumph and a trial in almost every area of my life, and, while I hope that the 50s will be better, I expect that I will have my share of new trials.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:36 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


good feelings about life began to decline at age 70 — for myriad reasons, including health problems, cognitive slide and the losses of loved ones

My age-related health problems started at age 40 and I'm pretty fucking grumpy about it.
posted by ook at 11:37 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


My father was blissfully happy when he turned 70, because his heart problems in his 50s & 60s were so bad that he was quite convinced he'd never make it to 70.
posted by JanetLand at 11:40 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I have no reason to expect I'll live that long, so this is fine with me.
posted by naju at 11:40 AM on April 14


70 is the age when the last drug dealer you know dies and it becomes impossible to find a new one. So there's that.
posted by three blind mice at 11:40 AM on April 14 [10 favorites]


I can't wait to be a grumpy old lady. It will no longer be 'bitchy' but will suddenly become 'quaint.' Especially when I start dropping f-bombs all over the place. And people will have to humor me because I will be old.

I also plan on pretending to be senile and deaf. My 70s are going to be awesome.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:41 AM on April 14 [31 favorites]


Heh. My dad turns seventy today. Passed this on, I have.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:41 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


At age 32 I felt invincible, on top of the world baby.

Oh no. I felt terrible at 32. Now 70 looks even worse.
posted by josher71 at 11:43 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Interesting study, though I understand there may be problems with the data set.

My personal theory is that men are more invested emotionally in their careers, and retirement can mean the loss of that ego boost. Admittedly, my data set is quite small, lol. This obviously doesn't apply as much to the younger generations, as more men seem to have social and emotional ties outside of work.
posted by annsunny at 11:44 AM on April 14


as soon as you aren't able to do Man Things (taking care of your family, etc.), your happiness declines rapidly.

I see this happening with my stepdad, who really enjoyed puttering around the house and isn't able to do that anymore. My mom's been asking him for months to find someone to fix the garage door, and he keeps putting it off, probably not wanting to admit he can't do it. It's really pretty sad. He still works part time at an office job, not because they really need the money but because otherwise he'd be bored to death. I'm really worried about what'll happen to him emotionally once he can't work.
posted by desjardins at 11:47 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Now that I think back on it, my Dad's 70s were mostly intolerable. Then he fell and badly injured himself, and ended up moving out of the slowly decaying house I grew up in to a different city where he found a community and meaningful volunteer work. When he was 70, he sounded like he was 90. When he was 80, he sounded like he was 65. Eventually, his health declined, and his last few years were kind of sad, but I was always glad he got that last shot at a life he could be proud of.

I suspect that one of the things that kills older men is uselessness. As their friends begin to die, they often lack the will and energy to make new connections and develop new sources of meaning and service. And, for a lot of people (definitely not just men), a lack of meaning means a lack of life.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:47 AM on April 14 [11 favorites]


examined 1,315 men — mostly military veterans who participated in a 15-year survey...

That seems to me to be a relatively unique group to base a study on, which purports to represent all men.


I mean, this is the crux of trying to study aging. It's practically fucking impossible, which is why we really know so little about it and have so many misconceptions about it. Obviously this study was done with a group through a VA, which made for relatively easy tracking and such - and often convenience is the determining factor in trying to design these studies. But anytime you do a longitudinal study like this, you will confound age and cohort. There is no way to know that whatever you find it is a function of the age and not just that group of people (influenced by their relatively shared experiences over their lifespans).

Your other options are either time-lag or cross-sectional. In a time-lag study, you can study some cohort at whatever age, and then a different cohort some time later at that age. But then you confound cohort and time of measurement. You can do a cross-sectional, so at some given time you study a group at age X and a group at age Y and compare them, but then you confound age and time of measurement.

On top of all that, aging studies suffer from a high degree of self selection bias. Who do you think is able to continue to participate in an aging longitudinal study? Well, the ones who don't die, for one. Also the ones who have the leisure to do so, the time and energy - in other words, the more well-off ones, both in terms of health and money, and you get very skewed results.

It's actually kind of a huge problem, because so much of the population is aging, and we actually know vanishing little about what aging is like, since the only people who have experienced aging are the aged! We see old people and we make so many deductions based on very little actual evidence (and second-hand evidence at that), we make predictions about what we ourselves will be like when we are older, etc., but the truth is that we are actually very ignorant about the whole thing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:48 AM on April 14 [8 favorites]


All the problems that plague the study of aging are doubled or even tripled when studying the period after death. We know almost nothing, other than the facts available in the Bible.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:50 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


The number one thing I can't imagine about old age is being unhappy about being retired.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:51 AM on April 14 [9 favorites]


BAH! HUMBUG!
posted by briank at 11:51 AM on April 14


My own completely unscientific observation is that most grumpy old men have been honing their grumpcraft for decades before the age of 70.

I swear my father was practicing and looking forward to it since his 40s at the very least. in his mid-40s he had an operation on his back and absolutely relished having to walk with a cane for a while--he got to point it and shake it at us for "gravitas" or whatever grumpy old men think shaking a cane at people does for them. He doesn't walk with a cane anymore, but he never really turned back. Now in his 60s he wears those giant Terminator X sunglasses over his prescription glasses when he drives his big-ass car around slowly and gets mad at all the other drivers.
posted by Hoopo at 11:57 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I think I could go the rest of my life without hearing the words "grumpy" or "grouchy". They just set me on edge.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:01 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah - I wonder how much of the unhappiness is the cult of Puritan work ethic burdening down on someone. My boss is supposedly supposed to retire, but it's a soft retirement and I keep hoping and waiting and it's just depressing as fuck that he's still sticking around. That's MY misery at 37. I need an escape to something better.

Speaking of being 37. My dad was 38 when he had me, I'm coming up on that in 3 months or so, which means my dad is 76. He had a heart attack in his 50s. It was shortly after that the he kinda finally calmed the fuck down. He's still a cantankerous bastard at times, but not nearly like he used to be. But he's falling apart. You know how older people talk about it (hell, even *I* and my friends talk about it, but I have a bunch of chronically ill friends, so...) But yeah, my dad literally is deaf in one ear. He used to have a hearing aid in that ear that helped, but now he can't afford it, and his vision is going and I feel bad, he has to crank the volume on the TV so loud (I got him some headphones, and I think that helped a bit... he was surprised the commercials had music... it almost brought a tear to my eye). But he likes to do things on the internet, and with macular degeneration and just bad vision in general, it's getting harder and harder, and I frankly think he's one of those people who've been waiting and expecting to die for many years, but he's still catching up to the median age. In a month, he'll hit it. I dunno.

I know I have one major major major factor in my life that makes me fucking miserable, and by the time I have a chance to actually do something about it I'll be old and I feel like fuck it. Just suffer through life and then die. Try to do something fun and entertaining in the meantime. Hope you have the mental energy to be able to create the things you want to create when the beast of depression hasn't beaten you down. I don't know what the fuck I'm saying.
posted by symbioid at 12:02 PM on April 14 [8 favorites]


My own completely unscientific observation is that most grumpy old men have been honing their grumpcraft for decades before the age of 70.

This. My grumpy old father-in-law was a grumpy middle-aged man, an angry young man, a sullen teen, and an unhappy child (by all reports). Honestly, I wish I could persuade him to go to therapy/consider anti-depressants, because I think there's a lot more depression than "lovable old coot" ness to his story.

I am not fazed by grumpiness in general, even find it endearing, but I do think it can be a cover for deeper issues sometimes.

This piece was complete fluff in terms of addressing these questions in any depth, though.
posted by emjaybee at 12:08 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


What, have you completed all of the vile tasks?

Not me, they keep popping up as Dailies. Not even getting karma currency for the in town vendors by completing them. Not my favorite quest line.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:12 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The number one thing I can't imagine about old age is being unhappy about being retired.

I can totally imagine it. Even if you hate your job it probably keeps you busy. I know I'd have trouble filling 16 hours per day of free time, since most of my time is currently spent either at work or recovering from it. I haven't had an extended block of home-bound free time since I was in school, so I haven't developed the skills and knowledge to deal with it very will.

Yeah - I wonder how much of the unhappiness is the cult of Puritan work ethic burdening down on someone. My boss is supposedly supposed to retire, but it's a soft retirement and I keep hoping and waiting and it's just depressing as fuck that he's still sticking around. That's MY misery at 37. I need an escape to something better.

I think it would be pretty sweet to semi-retire into the role of part-time wise old man.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:13 PM on April 14


My solution to the whole "unhappy with retirement" thing is to avoid anything that looks like work as carefully as possible. So far, so good!
posted by 1adam12 at 12:14 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah - I wonder how much of the unhappiness is the cult of Puritan work ethic burdening down on someone.

This. In spades.
I know I am dealing with this exact thing, even though I thought I had convinced myself that the work ethic was basically bullshit. Yet, as I came into my 50's and faced, first, job loss, and then health issues, I found myself no longer able to hold-up my end of the bargain (so to speak) or earn my keep (as I saw it). The depression and self-loathing because of this turn of events has been really debilitating, and wholly unexpected. I really thought I was immune to those pressures.

What often gets lost in the conversation is just how narrowly-focused men's roles in our society really are, even today. If you aren't an earner, or otherwise financially successful, you really are looked upon as a failure as a man. You had one job to do, and you failed.

Tellingly, I recently searched for support groups in my area, with an eye toward help for middle-aged men like me who are trying to deal with loss of job, self-esteem, etc. I found dozens of groups, but they were all for women. The two or three support groups for men I could find dealt exclusively with anger-management or substance abuse.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:15 PM on April 14 [17 favorites]


I also plan on pretending to be senile and deaf. My 70s are going to be awesome.

My grumpy paternal grandfather was almost entirely deaf. He totally lived it up when he was in his better moods. Neighbor he didn't like? "EXCUSE ME, skweeeSKWEEEkeeeeee MY HEARING AID AIN'T WORKING skreeeeeeeee SORRY *shrug*" where the intolerable screeching was him futzing around with the knob on his hearing aid because he KNEW it screeched and made people want to escape.

Annoying family member? "RUTH" (my grandmother's name) "GODDAMMIT RUTH, I CAN'T HEAR WHAT ANYONE'S SAYING! WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?" My Grandmother, attuned to his codes, would shrug and say "YOU'LL HAVE TO ASK THEM YOURSELF DEAR" at which point the annoying family members were all, "omigod hasn't he gotten new hearing aids? aren't they working? what's the point of your health insurance?" and my grandmother would shrug and say, "YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK LOUDER IF YOU WANT HIM TO HEAR" but none of them did so they just shushed as my grandfather "mysteriously" turned up the volume on his favorite curling shows. (Norwegian immigrant from Canada. He loved curling like nobody's business.)

Interestingly, he never had a hard time hearing us kids, except on rare occasions his hearing aids really DID act up. And we had loads of fun shouting at him. He'd follow up with, "YOU KNOW IT'S RUDE TO SHOUT" and we were all "YEAH GRANDPA IT'S REALLY RUDE" and he'd be all "I LOVE YOU GRANDKIDS" and to this day I have a hard time not shouting when I'm happy and relaxed around people.

Yeah. Being partially deaf and grumpy has its upsides.
posted by fraula at 12:16 PM on April 14 [20 favorites]


Just suffer through life and then die.

Pretty much. Anyone saying anything different is selling something.

Metafilter: I don't know what the fuck I'm saying.

Sorry about your dad. Seems ubiquitous though. Even with people who are relatively healthy.
My grandmother was as solid as an ox until the day she died. I learned a VAST amount of wisdom from her.
What was funny was how much everyone ignored her. Which seems to be what we do in the U.S. for the most part.

But among the gems she imparted to me was that when she was young (my age, she said, at the time I was a young adult) she thought she knew everything and most people were idiots.
As she got older, in her 50's and 60's, had a bunch of kids, lost some of them, all the hard knocks, she realized she did not know everything and perhaps people weren't as stupid as she had thought when she was young.
Buy the time she was 80, she said, she realized that she had learned pretty much everything there was that was worth knowing and that life pretty much repeated the same show over and over but to new people.
And, yes, most people were idiots, but why worry about it?

I told her the zen story of the guy with the tiger and the strawberry.
(A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!)

Sort of sharing wise stuff with her. Thinking I'd blow her mind with the wisdom and symbolism, etc.

She said you're going to die whether a tiger eats you or not and life can be sweet whether you have strawberries or not.

Sort of a stoic, grandma.
But y'know, if you weren't paying attention to her meaning you'd think she was grumpy as hell. Not so much the case. Just no more time for b.s. or illusions.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:22 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]


I have carefully cultivated a well-practiced cantankerousness throughout most of my youth, early adulthood, and middle age with the intention of graduating to a state of being kind-hearted and playful, with an easy, beatific smile, throughout the remainder of my term here on Earth. I have been lucky enough to know a reasonable selection of kind-hearted and playful older folks with easy, beatific smiles, and I'm confident that my experiment in getting it out of my system before I'm able to alienate all my friends and family will succeed.

Either that, or I'll just be very, very good at cantank by the time I'm called upon to use it in its fullest fetid flowering, in the wry and withering manner of a glamorously effete crank with all the best lines at a tiresome cocktail party.
posted by sonascope at 12:27 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much of it has to do with an existential unhappiness with the self that we manage to mask with the business of life. It's all awfully time consuming -- work, raising a family, tending to a house, etc. And it is wonderfully distracting from regrets, minor irritations with others and with one's self, and the realization that we're all on an unhappy downward slide toward oblivion. Worse still, if you live long enough, you begin to notice that even the most important people often end up footnotes in history books nobody reads, or names on streets or buildings that nobody cares to look up. It's hard to think about one's legacy to the world when so many of us outlive our own moment.

I know a miserable woman who is nearing 50 who has spent her entire adult life pursuing an unattainable goal, to the expense of anything resembling intellectual or personal development. Now illness has begun to strip away her ability even to chase that goal, but it is an illness that, although terrible, will still keep her alive for decades. Now she will have to not only face her own broken self, but must figure out who that self is without the distraction of doing the thing that generated her only self-conception.

I hope it is an educational moment for her, because we all risk that moment when everything we thought we were is taken away from us, and it can be tremendously instructive. But, knowing her as I do, I suspect there is a lifetime of deepening unhappiness ahead of her. I hope not. I hope this is educational. I hope it will be for me when I face that moment.

If not, I can imagine myself likewise having a future of deepening unhappiness, and if my only expression of it is grumpiness, you can safely assume I am holding back.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:28 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Senility doesn't seem that much fun. Waking up every day and panicking because you don't know where you are. Being told that you don't remember things that in your own mind you do remember. Losing control of your body, specifically your bowels. Not being able to walk in some cases. Your friends are mostly dead. The world is utterly changed from when you were at your peak.

Fuck, I'd be grumpy too.
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


My own completely unscientific observation is that most grumpy old men have been honing their grumpcraft for decades before the age of 70.

I'm imagining Grumpcraft is just like Minecraft but instead of fighting off creepers and zombies you yell at them to get off your lawn.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:34 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


cosmic.osmo: "I think it would be pretty sweet to semi-retire into the role of part-time wise old man."

You got part-time, semi-retire, old and man right regarding said individual. That other word is severely lacking, alas.
posted by symbioid at 12:38 PM on April 14


When does Irish Alzheimer's* kick in?

* You only remember the people who wronged you or you didn't like.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:38 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I can but offer the following on Being Old
1. Betty Davis: Old Age is not for sissies
2. The biggest surprise a person gets is to discover that he is old
3. I knew for sure I was very old when , both in Israel and NY subway, young girls got up and gave me their seats.
4. A young guy I knew asked me what it was like to be old ...I told him you look about and see
mountains of dead people ...they were friends, relatives you loved so well.
5. Someone asked why the old were so grumpy and depressed. I said perhaps it was that they knew things that the young would later discover
6. At some age--it varies with the individual--you begin to scout out the obits in the local paper
every day. A guy died? he was older by one year than you so that perhaps was why he died. Old age. A guy died, a year younger? outlived that son of a bitch. But fret not. You will not read your own obit.
7. It was, I think, Dr Sam Johnson, who advised: Do not worry about Death. If you feel hyou do not know how to die, Nature will help you.
posted by Postroad at 12:39 PM on April 14 [9 favorites]


A four-digit user!? Now that's a true sign of age.
posted by mr. digits at 12:51 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


"2. The biggest surprise a person gets is to discover that he is old"

A few years ago, I had to get a new doctor. Imagine my shock when she was about my age. NO! Doctors are supposed to be OLDER than you! That's when it hit me. "I'm an adult"
posted by symbioid at 12:57 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I wonder how old Grumpy was.
posted by MtDewd at 12:58 PM on April 14


Um...bullshit. My 50's, at least for me, has been when obstacles and annoyances seemed to explode.


Absolutely. In your 50s your career and life have often peaked, with no more big promotions or achievements in sight; if you lose the job, though, you're on the scrap heap. You're tired and probably on at least one kind if medication, but you have to keep working. A little later when retirement is near, you can stop caring and relax.
posted by Segundus at 1:01 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I love these age-related threads because you can get a sense of how old the other posters are. The wisdom from the more experienced mefites is great.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:07 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


A little later when retirement is near, you can stop caring and relax.

If you can afford to retire. Increasingly, a lot of people are discovering that retirement...actual retirement...simply isn't possible financially. Even people who did their duty and saved and invested are finding that it wasn't enough, especially given how long they might expect to live.

I tell you, being in your 50's and realizing you might actually live another 30 or 40 years can be fucking scary.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:09 PM on April 14 [13 favorites]


well, symboid, imagine my shock at realizing the president is YOUNGER than i am

imagine asking a couple of friends who'd gone to REO speedwagon last night if they'd played "golden country" and neither of them knew that song

then i told them i'd seen them with thin lizzy in 1976 and they didn't know who thin lizzy was

then, again, my 18 year old daugher doesn't know who nicky minaj or lady gaga is because she's a metalhead
posted by pyramid termite at 1:09 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Well my friends are gone,
And my hair is grey.
I ache in the places
That I used to play. . .

-Leonard Cohen
posted by Danf at 1:11 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Honing Our Grumpcraft for Decades
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:20 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


A four-digit user!? Now that's a true sign of age.

I'm glad you say age, and not maturity, or I'd have to fight you. :P
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:22 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


as soon as you aren't able to do Man Things (taking care of your family, etc.), your happiness declines rapidly.

I'm going to start pretending that my complete ineptitude at Man Things is just a pre-emptive move against elder depression. GUYS THIS IS WHY I SPEND ALL MY TIME READING AND WALKING DORKILY. I'M GETTING READY
posted by threeants at 1:26 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I work with architects and engineers. They keep coming in until they die. I think our CEO emeritus (or whatever) is 92 this year, frail, can barely walk, but he's here at least 2 days a week. He likes to tell us stories about projects he worked on in the 40s.
posted by emjaybee at 1:34 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much of the unhappiness is the cult of Puritan work ethic burdening down on someone.

Nothing wrong with a work ethic. But it raises the question, how were these guys doing in the other two parts of the triad?

A few years ago, I had to get a new doctor. Imagine my shock when she was about my age. NO! Doctors are supposed to be OLDER than you! That's when it hit me. "I'm an adult"

If you were really old, the shock would have been that she was a she.

Obama is the first president born after me, which would be more distressing for me if I had more respect for him. (Not that I had, or have much respect for any other president of my lifetime, but they at least were all older than me.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:40 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Well I know a certain father-in-law who's getting a print-out of this in his birthday card...
posted by Katemonkey at 1:43 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


One of the joys of being a few years older than my friends is being their Grandpa Simpson. "It'll happen to yooooooooooou."

They made fun of me a couple years back when I got the first of those ungodly ear hairs that feel like a steel aircraft cable and take approximately 20 seconds to grow and I did my "It'll happen to yoooooooooou." Now it's happening to them and I just laugh like Jabba the Hutt at their horror.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:47 PM on April 14 [11 favorites]


My old man once told me, "Don't ever get old." It was the only real piece of advice he ever gave me, and I couldn't take it.
posted by Flexagon at 1:48 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


When I get (if I get) that old I sincerely plan on living in the country, wearing very little clothing and abusing the hell out of any fun drugs I can get a hold of.
posted by edgeways at 2:04 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I think two of the biggest factors in this unhappiness is losing your peers and losing the abilities you once had.

My dad has managed to keep most of his skills and abilities thus far, although he needs reading glasses and has trouble with his hearing. As a result he's stayed fairly active since his retirement and around a 5 out of 10 on the grumpy scale.

Although, one of his oldest friends passed away last year after a prolonged battle with cancer. After the funeral, the following exchange happened in the car:
Dad: "Damn, it was awful to see ol' Bud like that. It got to where he couldn't even swing a hammer. Last time we went out to lunch, I had to help him up in to the truck. Poor old man couldn't lift his leg that high."
Me: "Aw, that sucks. Cancer's such an asshole."
Dad: "Well, Bud was old. So he's had a good life. I'll just miss him."
Me: "How old was he?"
Dad: "71"
Me: "Aren't you 69?"
Dad: "Yeah, but those two years make a hell of a lot of difference."
posted by teleri025 at 2:06 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The mental and physical degeneration associated with aging are, for me at least, a major literal and figurative pain in the ass. The inability to do things and enjoy things as before is both inconvenient and depressing. And losing friends can be devastating - as Bette Davis noted "Old age ain't no place for sissies."
However there are concomitant advantages. Most of the major problems of our time have become unimportant - partly for the very selfish reason that I won't be around to suffer the consequences but mostly because I have neither the time nor the piss and vinegar to do much about them.
(This is not a total cop out, there's plenty of small things which can be done.)
And having to slow down one is able to to enjoy small pleasures with childlike intensity.
This is at odds with the survey results - probably just part of the normal scatter in such results but possibly because military life may not be have been quite as much fun as mine...
And yes I'm with you Dark Messiah!
posted by speug at 2:09 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I hated going into retirement.
So I came back.
Working as a chef in my sons restaurant.
Love it tremendously.
I can be grumpy on my weekends off if I need to.
There is actually quite a lot to be grumpy about but not many people to share it with,
and those people are not so much fun to be with.

So I keep on trucking.

Soon its spring here in Stockholm, my garden awaits me.
And on wednesday I fly to New York for a wedding.
Not mine tho - three is enough..
Next birthday I'll be 74.

But then I was never in the army. Any army.
posted by jan murray at 2:14 PM on April 14 [19 favorites]


There are several mentions of younger people not knowing of things or people that YOU know. That is one of the isolating factors of age - there are no peers, no one with shared experiences, no one to talk to.
posted by Cranberry at 2:15 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


In my sixties, I'm a little deaf, a little sight-impaired, and this year it has been bursitis, arthritis, and Morton's neuroma. Something about finding it difficult to go up and down stairs, to hear what the heck anyone is saying, and to see things I used to see easily does make it a VERY ANNOYING WORLD. Also, stop mumbling, people.

On the plus side, I'm still competing in my sport and just beat all the other ladies in my age group in a national tournament, making the world championships team in the process, so WTF.

I feel like the various cats I've had who died of old age. Staggering along completely determined to still do everything, full of appetite, and occasionally given to odd little playful leaps sideways, though they aren't as frequent as they used to be.
posted by Peach at 2:24 PM on April 14 [19 favorites]


On the day my father turned 70, which was a beautiful blue-sky day, he went to check the oil in his beloved antique Packard. When he was finished he dropped dead there in the driveway, instantly and without ceremony. I hope I can go similarly, it seemed a most civilized departure.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:32 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]


> I know I'd have trouble filling 16 hours per day of free time, since most of my time is currently spent either at work or recovering from it.

All I know is, my parents have been retired for going on 15 years and they have been rocking that shit from day one. Of course, they were lucky (and wise) enough to set up sufficient savings and a pension which allow them to live their idea of the good life. They also have hobbies, lots of friends and love to travel.

When my dad retired they drove their motor home from Canada to New Orleans and back, and the first time I talked to him on the phone they'd been camped out somewhere along the banks of the Mississippi for the last few days. When I asked him what he'd been doing there he said "Watching boats go by."

I take after my old man.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:45 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


By the time you reach your 50's, you've stopped worrying about what other people think. When you hit your 70's, people stop worrying about what you think.
posted by klarck at 3:27 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Suicide rate increase probably has more to do with things like drops in Vitamin D and testosterone levels, which can be precursors to depression.

Also, people over 70 are pretty much discounted by American society, so the protective effects of human connection; looking forward to things; etc. tends to dissipate. This can lead to a very real sense of isolation and "not belonging" - i.e. feeling that young 'uns are "the enemy".

I think it would be more interesting to do more serious research on how people over 70 are perceived, treated, supported (or not) etc. to get a clue about why this is that state of things. You know, like there really is ageism in America. I know quite a few people in their late 50's/early 60's here in the Bay Area who can run circles around most high level developers; they can't even get an interview. This has turned more than a few of them pretty goddamned bitter, and (prematurely?) grumpy. Can you blame them?

btw, empathy scores among youth have decreased 40%+ (or more, depending on the study) since 1995. Maybe that has something to do with it. So maybe older persons are getting grumpy because of that?
posted by Vibrissae at 3:34 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: And yes I'm with you Dark Messiah!
posted by mr. digits at 4:05 PM on April 14


On the day my father turned 70, which was a beautiful blue-sky day, he went to check the oil in his beloved antique Packard. When he was finished he dropped dead there in the driveway, instantly and without ceremony. I hope I can go similarly, it seemed a most civilized departure.

Indeed (although I do not wish precisely this scenario for my dad, as he turns 70 today). Still, given my druthers, I'd like a chance to say may fare-thee-wells. I had occasion to bury a schoolmate two months past, and as I talked to her grieving brother at the memorial and he told me of her rapid mysterious illness -- six days from a puzzled doctor saying "You might want to prepare for the worst," to her death -- I restrained the urge to say that I figured is just about right: neither the lingering through eighteen months of misery nor the sudden bright light and then no more, but a week to tell important people how important they are and get one's affairs in order.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:08 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Getting your affairs in order in any sense sucks. It's my least favorite part of life, and yet it's the part with the most consequences if left unminded. I dearly hope the universe lets me skip out on that shit at least the one time.
posted by invitapriore at 4:28 PM on April 14


I am very much on board with the hypothesis that the Puritan work ethic is in part to blame for this trend. A number of the men in my family who saw their occupational relevancy shrinking in later adulthood were driven to attempt suicide, sadly.
posted by invitapriore at 4:31 PM on April 14


My father just turned 73. He doesn't seem old at all, mostly because he ran his mechanical contracting and high-end reno business until he was 68. I worked with him for a few years about 20 years ago. He was vigorous and strong at 50, and just a few years ago we moved my grandmother out of her house. We had to move furniture down the stairs, refrigerators, the works.

There is something to be said for an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one, and I am thinking about changing careers and getting away from the damn keyboard and computer monitor.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:40 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


> My are. I've been grumpy since I was 20.

I was an early adopter too.
posted by jfuller at 5:00 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


The number one thing I can't imagine about old age is being unhappy about being retired.

Just imagine scraping by on limited income because your retirement got fucked up. The being retired would be great, the part about wondering what to eat might not so much.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:36 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I'm well into the age group where my body doesn't do everything I tell it to like it once did - a decade working construction didn't help my knees and back nor is sitting in a chair for twenty years helpful - and my mind is slowly eroding as measured by Jeopardy! [The clues are getting harder right?] The internet has been a boon for looking up those unimportant factoids which once easily came to mind; the inability to recall drives me nuts beyond all proportion.

I've never been a fighter but when I was younger I could run away from any but the most determined assailants. No longer. On the plus side, compared to the 70's when I grew up, violent crime is at one third of what it used to be.

I do not look forward to my body doing things I don't want it to do.

Still, who want's to live forever? It's not dying that I fear, though that is likely better than a couple of decades away so I can't say for certain at this point. I can say for certain I don't like the aging process.

Seems old men either become kindly or grumpy. I am hoping I'll be mostly the former with a pinch of the latter - for fun of course.
posted by vapidave at 5:41 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


One of the consequences of posting this thread is that I just looked in the mirror and saw all my wrinkles afresh. My Dad is 77 and it's only the past year or so that I've recognised that he's getting old. We made him sell the coffee shop and retire at 63 because he was working himself into an early grave, almost lost him in surgery about 6 years ago, but he just had his second knee replaced and has a new lease on life. He says being retired is the best job he ever had.

I didn't always feel this way, but when I grow up, I want to be just like my dad.
posted by arcticseal at 6:00 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


There is something to be said for an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one, and I am thinking about changing careers and getting away from the damn keyboard and computer monitor.

I had this modeled for me nicely by two sets of grandparents. One set spent their older years traveling around the world, hanging out with grandkids, doing cruises and stuff, going on adventures (Christ they went to Africa when they were in their 70s and not the tourist-friendly resort kinda thing, either) and having fun. The other decided since they were retired, that meant they didn't have to do ANYTHING, so they sat in their chairs and watched daytime TV until they died. I can tell you whose funeral was more interesting and who we had fonder memories of, at least.

Anyway, on the active lifestyle front, now that a bunch of my friends have started hitting 30, the difference in quality of life between those who stay active and those who are totally sedentary is really starting to tell and, frankly, is the terror I need to keep sending me to the gym every day. At this point I'm just trying to keep the physical functioning I've still got.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:36 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Also, people over 70 are pretty much discounted by American society,

I think this is a worthy line of investigation. I sent six weeks in Kenya last year. I had read that as a culture/s, Kenyans respect age and equate it with wisdom and seniority, but seeing it put into practice in work and social settings really put into perspective the ignominy white, western culture subjects its senior citizens to. Neither seen nor heard, it seems.

My dad died last year, at sixty eight. Watching the terror, depression, frustration, and sadness he grappled with in the last six months of his life (when he knew that clock had a matter years or months left on it) was also frustrating and saddening as his child.

Obviously his personality played a large role in this, but i can't help feeling it was also a result of our society's construction of masculinity, and what it means to be a man. Dad didn't know how to be anything else when the traditional archetype couldn't be met.

Thank you to our more senior mefites for sharing in this thread.
posted by smoke at 8:54 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Add another voice to those thanking our senior contributors for the wisdom and experience they offer here and in every thread.

Thanks to AIDS and cancer, I lost a shocking number of friends before I was 30 and can speak to the loneliness of being the sole survivor of anything. The young and beautiful souls I watched put into the ground seemed, at the time, the quintessence of tragedy. Beholding the slower and more painful process of aging I feel my perspective shifting subtly from Oh, what they've missed, to Ah, what they've been spared.

Then I reflect on an 80-something lady I met not long ago who lied about her age to keep working, and who shared with me her secret to happiness. "I'm fine as long as there's good new music to listen to." She then described attending an outdoor rave party with her grandson. "I just love that electronic stuff."
posted by kinnakeet at 10:53 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]


People are as grumpy as they can get away with and as grumpy as they need to be. You hit 70 and people start making allowances for poor you and your age sitting together in a big chair.

If you have an old man and you don't want a grumpy old man, help him ungrump. If he's achy all over and his dick doesn't work anymore, fix his diet, get him outside every day, and get him some good drugs (prescription or street) to soothe the aches and cheer him the fuck up. You know he's eating right because you eat with him as often as possible and you patrol and stock his kitchen. Check his medicine cabinet regularly to see what's ailing him. Make sure your old coot is seeing his doctor and dentist at least a couple times a year.

Also, keep him feeling presentable. Get him (or give him, if that's your style) a manicure and pedicure. See if you can't get something done about all that hair in his nose and ears. Get him to the barber regularly - he loves going to the barber. In the autumn, he needs to be tuned and greased and recharged for Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's. Then he needs to lie down for about a month, but by spring he needs to be back on a cheatable diet that preps him for the summer.
posted by pracowity at 12:43 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I know I'd have trouble filling 16 hours per day of free time

I’ll do it for you for a reasonable fee.
posted by bongo_x at 12:58 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


The big elephant in the room/in this thread is dementia. You can have a body as fit as a fiddle and have a meaningful job and/or hobbies, but if you find your find slipping and don't know if you can fix it, it is pretty reasonable that you will become angry or despondent. I had more than one elderly relative who succumbed to dementia, and also more than one relative terrified it would happen to them.
posted by Megami at 1:18 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


old men either become kindly or grumpy

Indeed. My grandfather seemed to reach an enviable state where he still cared about things that matter but his patience and benevolence could no longer be disturbed by the normal petty irritations of life.

On the other hand I will always remember seeing a white-haired old man on the tube, who I guess was in at least his seventies, but still fit and well. He missed getting on the train because his frail little wife was bringing up the rear. He threw a tantrum "This is why I hate travelling with you!" worthy of a six year old; he literally stamped his foot in rage. There was another train in two minutes.

If I haven't achieved more maturity and kindliness than that by the time I'm his age I hope somebody puts a bullet through my head.
posted by Segundus at 1:43 AM on April 15


You can have a body as fit as a fiddle and have a meaningful job and/or hobbies, but if you find your find slipping and don't know if you can fix it, it is pretty reasonable that you will become angry or despondent.

This is true, but I think there is evidence that a healthy body (thanks to exercise and diet) actually helps you have a healthy mind. For example:
The risk of developing Alzheimer's or vascular dementia appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol.
And, of course, the reverse as your assertion is also true: you can have a perfectly healthy mind and still be lying there dying of something else. If that something else is preventable, prevent it.
posted by pracowity at 4:32 AM on April 15


I sent this to my Dad (78) and he wrote back that grumpiness must be NPR's word for logical. I told him he was the most logical person I know and gave him an internet hug.
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:42 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


My father was a drug abuser, heavy drinker and womanizer up until a few months before his death at 70 about 9 years ago. He had only an elementary school education, worked in dangerous industries (when he worked at all), and definitely wasn't one to hang his hat in any one woman's home after he left my mom when I was about 4.

I don't say this with admiration. I just often wonder if my healthy patterns of eating and exercise, being devoted to my family, and having a white collar job are really going to make all that much difference for my length of life and quality of life in the closing minutes of the game. Hell, for all I know, the pressures of my white collar job and stress from trying so hard to make sure my kids have everything I didn't have growing up are stressing me out and decreasing the ticks left on the clock. It would be ironic if I ended up not even lasting as long as my dad despite doing the opposite of just about everything he did.

And I constantly worry about being a burden once I'm no longer physically fit, mentally sharp, and the main breadwinner for my family. Now that I'm 40, I've started thinking more and more about taking steps now to see to it that I can enact a self-generated exit strategy if I slide into grumpiness and forgetfulness in a few more decades.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:28 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Also, people over 70 are pretty much discounted by American society,

I saw Barbra Walter on 20/20 last night and it occurred to me that she has literally always been old. Like I have no personal memory of a young Barbra Walters being on TV. And I'm middle-aged.

She's 84.

Eighty-fucking-four.

No one is going to mistake her for a 25 year-old but man, she seems to be doing OK for 84.

Like the 1% of personal wealth, there is a 1% of people who through good care, good genes or borderline unethical medical treatment are working way beyond what most people manage.
posted by GuyZero at 1:26 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


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