Want a Happy Life? Follow These 4 Steps in This Order.

Things that should not be controversial:

Some people are more attractive than others.

Some careers are more desirable than others.

Some choices are better than others.

I am not denying the fact that this is subjective on an individual basis.

If you think that Danny DeVito is cuter than George Clooney, or that the coal miner is as appealing as CEO, that’s your business, but, let’s face it: you’re in the minority.

If you think that Danny DeVito is cuter than George Clooney, or that the coal miner is as appealing as CEO, that’s your business, but, let’s face it: you’re in the minority.

Which brings me to the point of today’s blog post on the “Millennial Success Sequence.” This is the name of a 36 page PDF created by the American Enterprise Institute which outlines an uncontroversial life plan for young people:

  • Get a high school degree.
  • Get a full-time job.
  • Get married.
  • Have kids.

Ta-Da! You would never have thought of that sequence yourself, would you?

And yet, over 50% of all children born to 20-30-year-olds are born out of wedlock. This choice – to have children without marrying – tends to lead to suboptimal outcomes for both the parents and the children.

That’s where this report came from. That’s why I’m sharing it.

What I’m not doing:

Shaming single mothers. Telling you your children shouldn’t have been born. Suggesting that marriage is the only way to be happy. Insulting you in any way, shape, or form.

In other words, this isn’t fake news. If anything, it’s predictable news: Get an education. Get a job. Get a great relationship. THEN start creating new human lives. Simple.

This isn’t fake news. If anything, it’s predictable news: Get an education. Get a job. Get a great relationship. THEN start creating new human lives. Simple.

Change the order around and you are taking an unnecessary risk for your kids.

Your thoughts, below, are always appreciated.

Click here to download the Millennial Success Sequence:

Key takeaways:

While 55 percent of 28- to 34-year-old millennial parents had their first child before marriage, the vast majority of millennials who married before having any children are now steering clear of poverty and appear to be headed toward realizing the American dream. Additionally, 95 percent of millennials who married first are not poor, compared to 72 percent who had children first.

Even millennials from low-income families are more likely to flourish if they married before having children: 71 percent who married before having children made it into the middle or higher end of the income distribution by the time they are age 28–34. By comparison, only 41 percent of millennials from lower-income families who had children first made it into the middle or higher end of the distribution when they reached ages 28–34.

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  1. 1

    The older I get the more I realize that the key to happines is a lot simplier and the same answer for pretty much every person and that “Choose to be happy.”    The people that I encounter that are truly happy individuals do not have the most perfect lives.  They often have health ailments, are average looking, may not have the best jobs, or a college degree, may or may not have kids, but the difference is they are happy with what they have.  They make a concious choice to say hey maybe I lost a leg to diabetes or at war, but at least I have one left, some people do not have that.   On the other hand I have met people that seemingly have the perfect lives and are completely miserable.   Because they do not choose to be happy with what they have, they choose to be miserable for what they don’t.  It is one thing to aspire to improve yourself, like I want to get a degree or a better job or find a mate.   But it is another thing to say I will not be happy until I acheive X.  You waste your whole life waiting on something that may never happen and you are not happy.

    1. 1.1
      Emily, the original


      On the other hand I have met people that seemingly have the perfect lives and are completely miserable.   Because they do not choose to be happy with what they have, they choose to be miserable for what they don’t.

      I totally agree. Or if they are unhappy, they will not do anything to change their lives. Happiness lies in your own hands, as cheesy and irritating as that sounds. When people told me that years ago, I would cringe. But now I get it. It all starts from within, which is why external things — a better job, a new partner, more money — will only do so much to improve the quality of life.

  2. 2

    This is an issue that has zero to do with the sequence of doing things and everything with socioeconomic class. The affluent marry later and then have kids because they’re affluent and that’s just what the affluent do these days. They do not become affluent as a result of doing it in this order. So the sequence should really start with

    0. Get born into an upper middle class family


    1. 2.1

      It does make you wonder how many of the ones having children after they were married actually came from affluent homes. Education, upbringing, being able to afford health care certainly pay huge roles there.

      But the study did mention those who were born to low income families made it to the middle and high earners if they didn’t have children before marriage, so it does include low income people also.

      The only other thing I wonder is how many of those who had children first (and are not successful) are actually also married. It only mentions that they had children first. It doesn’t mention whether they married yet after having children.

      Combining assets is well known to lead to greater wealth. And a woman raising kids on one income and child support will certainly not do as well as a woman raising kids on two incomes (including the new husband’s) and child support.


      1. 2.1.1

        And what about women like me who got married first before having children and got a divorce? Most people I meet over 35 are either divorced or married.  However, I am WAYYYYYYYYYY happier now than I was when I was married. I also have my Masters but came from a lower income family to start with. So while I agree with Evan that there are ideal ways to do things better. I would emphasize marrying the RIGHT person as  opposed to just being married as one of the keys.

        Also, being grateful for what you have….I think happiness is a state of mind over a state of condition ASSUMING the basic hierarchy of human needs are met (sufficient food, shelter, etc.). Also, my younger sister is a single nurse making great money in NYC, no kids, and is happiest traveling the world and doing her at 31 years of age and I also think her spirituality helps.  I don’t think there is no formulated happiness recipe. Just make sure that the decisions you make are good ones. I also don’t believe you have to be married or have kids to be happy at all.

        1. Stacy

          Please excuse the typos.

    2. 2.2

      Did you read the stat near the end of article?Lower income millenials who have kids after marriage make it to the middle or high end of income distribution at a rate of 71% vs. 41% who had kids before marriage.

  3. 3

    And how many children born after marriage ended up with parents who are divorced?

    Not to mention if all people would wait for a great relationship (and marriage) to have children, our species would have died out ages ago. The percentage of happy, long-term relationships/marriages is sadly rather low. (I think it was something like 1/3 of marriages are reportedly happy).

    Not like I don’t fully agree with the career/marriage/having children order. The cost of raising children is mindboggling. Add the demands on time, etc. it becomes near impossible to work your way out of poverty with children in tow. It would be hard enough just to maintain what you have.

    Personally, I don’t understand why any woman would choose to have children. The physical cost alone was enough to deter me from ever going through that. Aside from the often life-long physical consequences, a woman also has to sacrifice her time, independence, career, and sex life (if lucky, temporarily, until her body heals. But in too many cases there are lifelong consequences here too).

    Hats off to all the mothers out there. I don’t know how you do it.

    In an ideal world, people (both women and men) would be a lot more responsible about birth control. But even that is known to fail. And I think one of the biggest obstacles for young women in poverty is hope. They aren’t raised to have hope for a better life. So they do what their mothers/grandmothers have done. Spit out child after child, trying to find some meaning/purpose/love in life. Some of them might have been born with the fighting spirit to better their situations. But not every person is wired that way. I think most of us on this site are well aware how big a role the mental programming someone received growing up plays in someone’s life.

    On the other hand, I can also understand why people (even those not living in poverty) choose not to wait until marriage to have children. To many, the whole happy marriage thing has become the equivalent of the Easter bunny and Santa clause. Nothing but a fairy tale.

    A lot of that generation are children of divorce, who no longer believe marriages will last anyway. Women are becoming more and more independent, and are no longer willing to be treated disrespectfully, not to mention submit to a man’s wishes. They watched their mothers stay in marriages just because they had no other choice, and are a lot less likely to do so themselves, because they do have choices.

    Then there’s the biological clock. Doctors are pushing to have children in your 20s. Too many women who did everything right are finding themselves in their mid 30s, still single. Their timeframe to find that great relationship is rather short.

    And – the bane of most (successful) women – they have to constantly be in their masculine energy in order to survive. But men aren’t attracted to masculine energy. So now a woman has to switch  back and forth between her masculine traits (work, career, providing for herself), and being feminine and soft to find/keep a man. She basically has to tone down her own abilities to be considered relationship worthy. That is very hard to do.  It’s the equivalent of asking a man who can lift 300lbs to stand back demurely and watch another struggle to lift a 50lbs bag. All the while pretending the weakling is his hero.

    So a woman needs to maintain her physical appearance, provide for herself/maintain her career (or risk starting at zero after the divorce and raising the kids), play Betty homemaker when she gets home, have and raise kids (all the while maintaining her figure, career, and sex drive, of course), somewhere find her feminine energy to please her man, and ignore him still ogling and fantasizing about all the hot chicks around (preferably not minding his visits to strip clubs either, if she wants to be a really good wife). All in exchange for the man graciously accepting the ball and chain called relationship/marriage, and giving up his natural instinct to have sex with every willing female (although retaining the right to drool over them all).

    Sounds like a lot of effort for very little in return.

    Therefore, while I agree with waiting until after career/marriage to have children, I can also understand why many women don’t. There’s too high a likelihood that the relationship won’t last, that it will be unsatisfying/unhappy, or that she won’t find one in time.




  4. 4

    This was spot on Evan, and I speak as someone born into very modest means to a completely uneducated/low skill level family who rejected the family way of life, left at a young age, earned three Science degrees, and is a Professor. There’s a few more things that need to happen besides ; self awareness, insight, critical thinking/questioning skills, ability to delay  gratification, mental toughness, and a strong work ethic. I raised a brother alone as my own son and I agree that parenthood is the absolute most difficult job there is, constantly demanding, expensive, no off time whatsoever. I’ve had students go back to school as single parents, they often thrive, but still the outcome is never as successful because even with a degree, they’re mobility and thus options both as to finding jobs elsewhere and partners is greatly decreased by the demands of single parenthood. Once you’re in a parental role, everything is about the child and your hopes and dreams become a distant second. Some never get out and up.

    I also state self awareness as it relates to life satisfaction and ones choices. You really need to know who you are, what environment/occupation suits you best and these have to come from within, not from friends, relatives, etc. If you’re living in a way you hate, living in a place you hate, with someone out of convenience rather than true desire, no amount of success is going to make you happy.

  5. 5
    Tron Swanson

    Unfortunately, for both men and women, there are three in-between steps that aren’t listed:

    1. Be high-earning enough (men) or attractive enough (women) to convince someone to be in a relationship with you. Unfortunately, not all of us meet this criteria.

    2. Be even more high-earning or even more attractive to convince someone to marry you. Many people can get to (my) Step 1, but that isn’t a guarantee that they can get to Step 2.

    3. Find a spouse that doesn’t cheat on you and/or divorce you.

    I could try to follow the original pattern that was mentioned, but I could fail at any of my three steps. Being risk-averse and all too aware of my own limits, I’ve found that it’s much safer to not depend on other people for happiness, because that can (and usually does) go terribly wrong.

  6. 6
    Jenny Rugeroni

    Well, things don’t work the same for everyone. I am Brazilian, grew up in a very poor family, started working at the age of 9 and became a mother at 17. I was 33 years old when I met my boyfriend, 34 when I got my university degree, and I am perfectly happy. Most of the time, it depends on focusing on the good things and being grateful instead of complaining about everything.

  7. 7

    I’m going to tell you the viewpoint of a divorce attorney. Evan, you are spot on!  Thank you!

    I see kids getting yanked around a lot. Tiny babies caught up in their parents’ divorce, because the parents are only 22. They haven’t finished their college yet, and neither one of them has a stable job yet. But for some reason they thought it was a good idea to go ahead and get married.

    Where is birth control education these days? (Okay I know we could all have a big political discussion about Planned Parenthood, but that’s for another day and time.)   Many times these are  young couples are getting married because of pregnancy after one month of dating. These are people who barely know each other, and yet they’ve conceived a child.



  8. 8
    Mary H

    Ha, I used to work there! Small world 🙂

  9. 9

    Oh, and a high school diploma wont get you too far these days.

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