According to a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Legal Studies, as a whole, we're no happier now than we were 30 years ago. However, the "happiness gap" -- the difference between the happy and the unhappy -- has generally narrowed, even as gaps in things like free time and income have widened [source: Journal of Legal Studies].
Make Time for Fun
Remember the old proverb "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? Not only do we become boring (and bored) when we don't take a break from work, we also become unhappy. A common belief is that the only way to be successful or to "get ahead" is to push ourselves to the breaking point, neglecting other facets of our lives in favor of our careers. While working hard is admirable, few people at the end of their lives wish that they'd put in longer hours at the office. Instead, they wish that they spent more time with their friends and family, engaging in activities that made them happy. Even the most rewarding job can cause burnout, so making time for fun is essential to happiness. Time away can even give you a fresh perspective at work.
Making time for fun might mean refusing to take on something new or asking for help with an overwhelming project. If you're still having trouble fitting in your fun time, schedule it -- if it's on your calendar, you're more likely to treat it with just as much importance as you do meetings and appointments. A 10-minute walk, a comedy special on TV or a few minutes at a funny Web site all count, not to mention devoting time to a favorite sport, hobby or interest. Of course, we're also talking about taking personal days (and actually relaxing instead of using them to run errands) and planning vacations.
Think about what you wanted to do more than anything else when you were a child: play. Children throw themselves into their play without thinking much about whether they're doing it "right" or what others may think, because it makes them feel happy. It doesn't matter if you feel silly doing activities like Hula-hooping, jumping on a trampoline or coloring with crayons. The important thing is that it's fun and it relieves stress. It's hard to be anything but happy when you're having fun.
Want more on happiness? Try the links to HowStuffWorks articles on the next page.