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Who says we get happier with age? I’m grumpier than ever – and proud of it!

Who says we get happier with age? I’m grumpier than ever – and proud of it!

By Michael Winner for the Daily Mail Updated: 01:49 BST, 12 January 2012

Grump: Michael Winner Grump: Michael Winner

Grump: Michael Winner

A new study for the journal  Perspectives On Psychological Science says older people are happier and get more positive as they age.

I read it with utter disbelief. But then, the study was by a psychologist, which means its results are about as reliable as getting a tip on the horses from a gardening expert. 

The report suggested older minds focus on the positive.

It said over-50s are more likely than younger adults to ‘prune’ their social circle or friends if they find any of their acquaintances ‘bring them down’. That means they’re going to dump a whole lot of people because they don’t think they’re any use to them any more. An example of the milk of human kindness if ever there was one.

The basic thought process — if you can aggrandise it by calling it thought — behind this extraordinary report is that older people are less grumpy than younger people. 

What nonsense. I started life grumpy. I became increasingly grumpy with the passage of time. And being grumpy is excellent.

What being grumpy means is that, faced with incompetence, inadequacy, stupidity and all the things that are rampant in daily life, you don’t sit there silent — you let your feelings be known.

If more people did that, the situation all round might improve. Instead, they take the view that ‘we mustn’t complain because we will be considered grumpy’. So they shut up and put up with the incompetence, inadequacy and stupidity.


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What good does that do? I’m delighted to say that as I grow older I become less and less tolerant. 

I do not wish to live in a tolerant society. By that, I mean a society that tolerates crime and has criminals put away for either a very short time or given soft treatment while the victims are left to fend for themselves. 

Many of the wonderful figures in history who have been grumpy are my heroes. Winston Churchill was extremely grumpy, the more so as he became older. 

Famous for his surliness: Former prime minister Winston Churchill became ever-more grumpy as he aged Famous for his surliness: Former prime minister Winston Churchill became ever-more grumpy as he aged

Famous for his surliness: Former prime minister Winston Churchill became ever-more grumpy as he aged

He was great at issuing sarcastic remarks. And none was truer than when he said: ‘A hopeful disposition is not the sole qualification to be a prophet.’

As I become more grumpy, the person I’m grumpiest about is me. When I make mistakes, however minor, I let forth a stream of expletives of the most vulgar nature directed at myself.  I’m less flamboyant regarding other people’s failures, but I see no reason not to point them out.

In my job as a restaurant critic, I am always to the point. One of my favourite remarks when there’s a minor delay is: ‘Could you send a search party to the kitchen to see if they can find my main course?’ 

The waiter always goes away saying, ‘What a grumpy old sod’ — and he’s quite right. 

Why should I not complain? I can think, for example, of few more awful people than restaurant receptionists. 

When you enter the restaurant hoping to have a nice evening out and be well greeted, the receptionist looks up and says in a surly voice: ‘Do you have a reservation?’ As if, without a reservation, you are a non-person. 

I say, ‘Go back to receptionist school’, and walk past them. 

I’m sure they say to their friends: ‘We had that terrible old grump Michael Winner in last night.’ If expecting a bit of hospitality from what is laughingly known as the hospitality industry is unreasonable, then I am extremely grumpy and delighted to be so.

I also become very grumpy when things go wrong, such as when I order flowers and they don’t get there, or when people assure me they’re going to turn up on time, but don’t.

My friend Simon Cowell is the most polite and courteous man ever and greatly believes in good manners. But he is incapable of turning up anywhere on time.

Once, in Barbados, he came to a restaurant half an hour late and said to me: ‘On a scale of one to ten, Michael, how angry are you?’  I said: ‘Well over ten, Simon. It is extremely rude to keep people waiting.’ 

His great friend Philip Green remarked in his speech at Simon’s 50th birthday party: ‘I’ve got him a special present: Big Ben.’

The point is that I didn’t have the courage to be very grumpy when I was young. Wisdom came upon me with the passage of decades and now I don’t care what anybody thinks about it. Being grumpy simply means you will not stand any nonsense.

The point is that I didn’t have the courage to be very grumpy when I was young. Wisdom came upon me with the passage of decades and now I don’t care what anybody thinks about it. Being grumpy simply means you will not stand any nonsense.

During my years in the film industry, I came across any number of grumps. My friend Robert Mitchum, who I was directing in a movie, was marvellously grumpy. He complained about everything. 

Referring to what he thought was a heavy workload, he saw a horse go by and said: ‘The only difference between that horse and me is he can go to the toilet in the street and nobody minds.’

Burt Lancaster was such a grump that he not infrequently hit people. He tried to kill me three times, yet he was one of my best friends.

Burt became particularly grumpy when anyone tried to take his photograph, be it a professional, a paparazzo or member of the public. 

In Vienna, we were making a movie and Burt was some distance away waiting for his call to action. My assistant said: ‘Look over there — Burt’s beating up a member of the public.’ Someone had got through the crowd barrier and stuck a camera in Burt’s face. Burt was slapping him about in full view of thousands of onlookers with cameras.

Marlon Brando could be extremely irritable. Once, in New York, Marlon got so furious that he broke a photographer’s jaw.  Burt rang me and said: ‘Well, your friend Marlon’s done better than me — he’s inflicted serious bodily harm on one of them.’

Marlon Brando Marlon Brando Robert Mitchum Robert Mitchum

Extremely irritable: Winner’s pals in the film industry Marlon Brando and Robert Mitchum were so grumpy they would attack people who photographed them

Charlie Bronson could be grumpy. Every day we had to supply him with an American brand of instant coffee called Yuban. My assistant Stephen would make the coffee and bring it to him on the set.

One day, Charlie turned on Stephen and said: ‘Stephen, you’re watering down my Yuban coffee.’


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What benefit could Stephen possibly have got from watering down his coffee?  But Charlie loved to have  a grumble. 

I‘m delighted that, as I’ve become older, I put up with less and less. The British hate grumbling. They’re pathetic at it. You get six British people dining in a restaurant. Everything is a disaster.  They get the wrong food. Someone doesn’t get served what they ordered at all. Even if it’s right, the food is horrible.

At the end of the meal, the Maitre ‘D comes over and says: ‘How was everything?’ And they all smile, nod their heads and say: ‘Lovely, lovely.’ 

That is a betrayal of what they really believe in. A betrayal of the grumblers’ charter.

Why are they afraid to make their point? Because the British believe it is bad manners to make a fuss. That’s why they put up with anything and that’s why the country’s in the state it is.

Grumbling should never be well-mannered or under control. It should be full-blooded. It should be rampant.

Even I do not achieve the level of grumbling that I would like to achieve because I, too, was rather well brought up. But as I grow older, I’m trying to put all that behind me.

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Who says we get happier with age? I’m grumpier than ever – and proud of it!

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