The central idea of the book is about finding contentment, right now, right where you are in life.
Yes, it's perfectly fine to strive for improvement, but it's so much more rewarding if you start from a place of contentment, and then enjoy the process of improvement. Babauta puts it as follows:
"Contentment actually is a much better place from which to start making changes (self-improvement) than an unhappiness with who you are"
"If you start from a place of wanting to improve yourself and feeling stuck, even if you're constantly successful and improving, you're always looking for happiness from external sources. You don't find the happiness from within so you look to other things."
"... And in that way, you can offer yourself to the world and do great works in the world, but not necessarily need that to be happy"One of the key ideas comes in the very beginning:
"Worst of all, with the attitude of "you can be content because you're successful", is that people who say this are dismissing the path of contentment... when it's something they can do right now. Not later, when they reach certain gals or a certain level of financial success. Now."The lack of contentment has it's cause in two problems, according to Babauta:
1. You don't trust yourself.
2. You judge yourself badly.
Many of us can't find contentment because we are holding onto anger and disappointed from the past. Or we get upset easily, which ruins our day, and we feel as if some terrible wrong has been done to us. The book expands on anger and frustration:
"... But when we get frustrated, disappointed, irritated, or angry with other people or ourselves, that's a sure sign we had a fantasy that didn't come true"Along the same lines, he writes:
"If someone behaves rudely and you get angry with him, the problem isn't the other person's actions... it's your reaction. Or more accurately, it's not even your reaction, but your action based on that reaction"One way of turning a negative reaction around something I learned in a meditation course some time ago. If someone behaves rudely, you can simply tell yourself: "There I go, behaving badly again". The key idea here is that we all have our bad moments an our flaws, no need to get upset about that (an certainly not about someone else having one of these moments).
One of the key steps to find contentment, is to rebuild our trust. We should realize that failure is not a reason to judge ourselves.
"Failure is simply an indicator that something in our method needs to be changed"I'm wishing for all of us perfectionists to read and re-read this piece of wisdom over and over again. We stumble, and fall, and that's how we learn - nothing to be embarrassed about.
Next, Babauta explores the concept of happiness. He analyzes what happens when we find happiness from external sources, and what a difference turning inwards, and starting from happiness within makes to our perception of the world.
Another interesting concept in the book is about our relationships (with friends as well as with partners). When we get upset, there's a lot to learn about ourselves, and our perception of the other person; more than about the relationship itself. We don't need to depend on the other person to find our worth and value. As Babauta puts is:
"Realize you already have everything you need to be whole - you just need to let go of the insecurities, and realize how amazing you already are."The book ends with a list of suggestions to practice self-acceptance, as well as Babauta's answers to questions from his readers.
The Little Book of Contentment is a beautiful read that reminds us to smile, slow down and accept our position in this place, at this time. Highly recommended.