A few years ago, I started to feel the same way [restricted], where it got to the point where I went to the person I used to talk to for advice and asked "Is it Halaal for me to be happy?"
He didn't give me a straight answer (idiot :P) but he should have emphaticaly answered "yes!"
You see the reason that folk like us have this problem is that the texts (Qur'an and Ahadith collections) talk about progress. How to be better people and more sincere worshipers. What they don't explicitly discuss is, being happy and having fun. They discuss this, but not explicitly.
There is this idea that we should be grim, productive worship-automatons in this world and that we can be happy and have fun in the here-after. This is not true. Attainment through pure rituals of worship and obediance is the for the Angels AS; the way of man is attainment through loving worship and obediance.
The Messenger of God SAW spoke of a people whose worship rituals would be so vast that the we would feel our own rituals (including Qur'an recitation)to be few in comparison, however their recitation wouldn't reach to their hearts, and they would pass out of iman.
In other words, we should do our rituals for a reason, God says in Surah Rahman, "Is the reward for Ihsan anything but Ihsan?" Where 'Ihsan' is understood to mean something beautiful done with the intention to please someone. That is, you do an act with love and the reward is that Allah does something for you with love to make you happy.
Again I'm talking of deeds and acts, but the point is that we shouldn't be grim and automatic about 'being religious', the religious person is happy and makes others happy.
You see the four madhhabs are not to tell you how to pray. They are not revelation, rather they tell you the principles by which you, yourself, figure out how to pray. However because access to the machine of the madhhab requires such a high callibre of trainning, only those who study the madhhab can obtain readings and results, and so the common man finds out how to pray (finds results) by letting the madhab-operator run his investigations and share with us his results.
For this reason, the great use to the COMMON man, regarding the madhhab is in the various results and findings gathered from the machine.
In the same way, Islam is a deen, a comprehensive/holistic way of life, and yet for the transmitters of Ahadith, the overwhelming usefulness was for those ahadith which spoke of religious and spiritual attainment. This is why, in my opinion, the famous collections always mention acts and deeds and little else.
For those aspects of Islam which don't refer so much to acts and deeds, it is more useful to look at the seerah (way of living) and mu'aamalaat (soical interactions) of The Messenger SAW, and of those most faithful to Him SAW, that is, the Sahaba, the Taabi-een and the saints RA.
With regards this aspect, whenever my shaykh, shaykh Tahir ul Qadri, holds a large sitting, he occaisionally makes humourous or light-hearted remarks to illustrate that sunnah of the Messenger of making some joke with your congregation and friends. He also teaches, that with Mujahadah (spiritual work and disciplines), one must be of cheerful heart and countenance. Our acts of worship shouldn't make us feel grumpy and frustrated, and whilst its better to be involved in acts of ritual worship, been involved in other acts is fine as long as they are not prohibited.
It is not a lesser evil, it is merely neutral. Not rewardable and not punishable. However these things too can be turned into acts of worship with pious intentions, e.g. Whilst playing football, make sure you call out your own fouls instead of only those of the other team (my own examnple).
You are allowed to have fun and the Messenger SAW positively encouraged social interactions and not being a stranger to others. As long as you don't do anything prohibited, why can't hanging out with your friends be a sunnah?
My understanding is that Islam is of two complimentary aspects; Beauty and polishing. The first aspect is the aspect of Salaam. God says in the Qur'an that whatever he revealed was not revealed to be a burden, and the Messenger SAW said that He was only sent as a mercy to the worlds. So be happy, and engage in things which make you happy.
The other aspect is the aspect of Mujaahadah and self-improvement, whereby you try to give more than take and you try to give more time to acts of ritual worship. Self-improvement could also be trying to feel happy when you say AlhamduliLlah!
(I originally posted this here)