The Things That Count

There’s that famous saying by William Bruce Cameron that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

You can count the times you wake up next to someone you love, but once you start keeping track, you’ll lose what it’s about: the feeling. You’ll realize this habit is not one we can ever have enough of, and the more days you rack up, the more you’ll fear losing your beloved instead of enjoying their company.

In other areas, this detrimental tracking-paranoia becomes a tremendous asset. If you love your work, counting the mornings you sit down to do it will ensure you keep showing up for it — and since work we love is not an activity we ever “finish,” there’s nothing wrong with trying to do some of it daily until the end of your life.

Counting is optional. You can devise some metric for anything, and you can abolish any number in favor of your gut. The question is where maths is useful, and where it gets in the way. Determine carefully what you should count, and even after you’ve decided, think long and hard about the how.

Someone who obsesses over the total number of stocks in their portfolio will end up with a diversified set of assets; a safe but perhaps not great return. Someone who chases a high number of shares in just a few stocks will have concentrated investments; more risk but maybe also more return.

Counting is trivial. We learn it when we’re three years old. Knowing when to count, how specifically, and, most importantly, why, is not. That’s a job for adults, and when we get lost in a sea of irrelevant numbers, it is rarely just us who pay the price.

Be careful where you count. Maths is a powerful tool, and, like all strong weapons, it must be employed with caution if it is not to hurt its wielder — and your happiness definitely counts.