This is How to Be Content: Live With “Arete”

These last couple of weeks, I’ve written a lot about how to feel fulfilled and happy.

According to the ancient philosophers, the way to go about that is to live in harmony with your Daimōn — the inner soul and guiding spirit that exists inside of you.

Abraham Maslow emphasized the importance of ”self-actualization” — your need to express your latent abilities and live your full potential.

But how, exactly, do you do those things? How do you follow the instructions of your Daimōn and become all that you can be?

Well, the ancient Greeks had a word for that, too.


Arete is an ancient Greek word that means “excellence of any kind” 1. The arete of something is the highest quality state it can reach.

Striving for arete means that you focus on the quality in everything you do.

Instead of worrying about how something will make you feel, you strive to do it to the very best of your abilities.

You replace the question “How do I feel about this?” with “What would the highest version of me do in this situation?”.

Then you go out and do what the highest version of yourself would have done.

And the more you put arete into practice, the more you’ll start to embody it.

”Sweep the Floor”

Living with arete is one of those things that take a minute to understand and a lifetime to master.

It’s an ideal you strive for, moment to moment. In his book, Ego Is the Enemy2, Ryan Holiday writes:

“My friend the philosopher and martial artist Daniele Bolelli once gave me a helpful metaphor. He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. (…) You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.

That’s a great metaphor for living with arete. The dust collects quickly. So you must sweep your floor every minute of your life. And then sweep some more.

How to Be Content

If at any given moment there’s a gap between who you are capable of being, and who you are actually being, you will inevitably experience some level of discontent.

Because it’s in that space feelings like unhappiness, regret, anxiety, and boredom exists.

So, whenever you’re at a choice point, think arete.

Ask yourself what the very best version of you would do right now.

Then get out your broom and start sweeping.

Express all that you can be, and there will be no place for discontentment.


  1. Arete (moral virtue)
  2. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Thanks to Brian Johnson for inspiring this article.