Applying The Ancient Greek Principle Of ‘Arete’ To Everyday Life

A lot of modern life is about bettering ourselves and being the best version of ourselves that we can be.

From meditation to the gym, we are all looking for ways to improve and excel.

This is not, however, a modern preoccupation.

The Greeks had a head start when it comes to self-improvement – in the form of ‘Arete’.

Arete is often translated as ‘virtue’ and whilst that’s a great thing to aspire to, it’s not strictly the true meaning of the word.

More accurately, Arete means “reaching your highest potential”.

This can often seem hard to attain, let alone knowing where to start.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at three ways to apply this Greek principle to everyday life.

Doing Your Best

Applying oneself fully to the task at hand is one simple way to bring the concept of Arete into your life.

This doesn’t mean ‘being better than others’, but rather doing something to the highest level of which you are capable.

We all know that it is too easy in life, with work, home and all the other stressors, to simply make do.

This often means doing a task – whether it’s making dinner or cleaning the house – to the point of ‘good enough’.

We also know that we gain extra satisfaction from going the extra mile and trying our hardest.

It’s this feeling that personifies Arete – the feeling of a job well done, of something completed to the highest possible standard.

This is an easy way to bring the concept into your life and feel the benefits.

It’s Not About Winning

Arete, in its purest form, is not about triumph or beating others, but about the will to compete and push yourself.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus outlined this when he talked about wrestlers entering the ring.

He saw you must sometimes try and fail or be hurt and tired, in order to understand your own potential.

The capacity to face defeat and not become despondent – to not give up – is a central part of Arete.

US President Theodore Roosevelt echoed this when he talked about those who dare to try and fail.

To him, putting in effort and failing was far more noble than never trying at all.


We all feel strong emotions from time to time, and in Arete this is perfectly acceptable – in fact, it is encouraged!

Arete is not about becoming an unfeeling champion, free from emotion.

Rather, it is about knowing that everything in life is about balance – between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions, for example.

Aristotle referred to this as the “Golden Mean” where a person understands and expresses their emotions in the right way, at the right time.

This balance is fundamental to invoking Arete and speaks of a healthy outlook on life.

author: Stephen Coleclough

Stephen Coleclough is a leading international and domestic tax consultant who specialises in solving complex problems. As well as advising on tax matters, Stephen also enjoys exploring topics relating to physical and mental wellbeing. You can follow him on Twitter at SColeclough.


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