Recent research suggests that white American males are dying at a younger age than in the past. The theory is that high unemployment results in depression, drinking, and drugs as these men no longer expect that they can achieve the American Dream. When this expectation can’t be met, depression and unhealthy habits can contribute to an early death. Remarkably, minority men are not dying younger. Perhaps they never expected to reach the American dream in the first place.

I was invited to facilitate a group entitled “Solo in Our 70s” with 27 alumni from the Stanford Class of ’65. The group consisted of alums in this age group who are solo from death of a spouse, divorce, or choosing to remain single. Here are a few thoughts from this engaging and highly energetic group (70 is the new 40). Note how these talented “70-somethings” seem to focus on setting and meeting new expectations.

  • “When you are suddenly without your partner, you need a supportive listener…and you need to be challenged to keep living your life.”
  • “Take new risks.”
  • “Find new interests such as taking piano lessons and going on retreats. Most important, the new structure has to be incremental, a few short steps at a time.”
  • “When I suddenly found myself alone, I went to Paris and found a cadre of single people sharing their solo lives with each other. My advice: take the initiative to go to new places.”
  • “If it’s hard to go home to an empty house, get a pet! If you are uncomfortable with being home alone, put in an alarm system. Most important, if you find yourself solo, force yourself to go out and do things.”
  • “When solo, embrace structure. Eat regularly, have routine, commit to ”
  • “Independence, in our out of a relationship, and self-awareness/development are mainstays of our lives in our 70s.”
  • “Foster a sense of “we” in relationships.”
  • “A fundamental part of relationships is listening.”
  • “Communicate openly and honestly.”

Just because you may find yourself alone in a world that may be different from what you expected, don’t give up and possibly die prematurely. Set challenging expectations and meet them. This could be a key to health and longevity.

It was certainly true for my friend Pat Hyndman. Pat was active and intellectually alive well into his 90s as he lived his personal set of positive expectations, including having friends, maintaining strong family ties, playing tennis, working with and coaching CEOs, and maintaining an active social life. Even as his body began to fail, he exclaimed that he expected to be okay because he was “being treated by the best doctors in the world.” My guess is that Pat also expected that the very best was yet to come.

No matter what decade you’re in, set meaningful expectations and challenge yourself to reach them.