The Science of Karma: 6 Ways Service Can Make You Happy

group of young people helping the environment

Karma is a concept shared by many wisdom traditions that has made its way into mainstream language and conversation. We’ve even seen the Law of Karma referenced on T.V.:  

  • Grey's Anatomy: “One way or another our karma will lead us to face ourselves. We can look our karma in the eye or we can wait for it to sneak up on us from behind. One way or another our karma will always find us.” ~ Dr. George O'Malley
  • The Mentalist: “Bad karma doesn't have an expiration date.” ~ Teresa Lisbon
  • Babylon 5: “I can only conclude that I'm paying off karma at a vastly accelerated rate.” ~ Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova

Described most simply, karma involves the law of cause and effect. Imagine a circle of dominoes. Pushing any single one down will begin a chain of reactions. In your life, this means that every situation that happens to you and everyone you meet has karmic significance. Everything happens for a reason regardless of whether or not you can currently see that reason.

Some people use karma as an excuse for inaction adopting a “there is nothing I can do” attitude. When you understand the science behind karma, you learn there's always something that can be done. Every action you choose, every thought you choose, and every life you touch creates change in your future outcome.

What Is Service?

Service is the action of helping or doing work for someone. Behaviors like compassion, altruism, and heroism are all service-oriented. Some people seem more naturally oriented toward service than others. Some people are naturally more physically fit than others too, but with a little effort, your aptitude for service can improve with practice in the same way that a routine of lifting weights makes 50 lbs. go from heavy to manageable over time.

Why flex your service muscle? Here are six science-backed effects of service.

Warmth

People often describe a warm feeling associated with giving. This might be a sensation in your heart area or you may feel it radiate around your entire body. One study that looked at altruism in crisis situations, like post-hurricane Sandy or after an earthquake, found that people who help in these situations actually experience a warmer ambient environment than those passersby who didn't help. Altruism has an immediate physical reward.

Friendship

Doing something nice for someone inspires a deeper relationship. One study has shown positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic. In plain English, doing something nice for a friend increases your health and optimism, and strengthens the bond of friendship.

Health

Volunteers were studied and 76 percent reported feeling healthier. When you give time, you get wellness. Seems like a pretty good deal!

Healing

A unique study on altruism looked to the roots rather than the outcome. The abstract was that people who have been victims of suffering or aggression often used the experience to promote healing. The suffering actually created a prosocial pay-it-forward model where the person who was victimized wanted to care for and help others rather than causing more pain. The exciting results found a strengthening of the self, a more positive orientation toward people, and increased empathy and belief in one's personal responsibility for others' welfare.

Elevation

This was first coined by Thomas Jefferson and described as “the opposite of social disgust” or the power of positive emotions to uplift and transform. Helping people elevates us and creates an upward spiral of moral growth.

Empowering

Philosopher-physician Albert Schweitzer once said, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Giving back through kind acts allows you to empower yourself and take charge of increasing your resilience and sense of calm amid life’s chaos.

What Does Service Have to Do with My Happiness?

Karma literally means "deed or act," but more broadly described is the law of action and reaction which governs consciousness. In physics, Sir Isaac Newton hypothesized that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Push against a brick wall and its material is molecularly pushing back with a force exactly equal to yours. In metaphysics, karma is the law that states that every mental, emotional, and physical act, no matter how insignificant, is projected out into the psychic mind substance and eventually returns to the individual with equal impact.

You get what you give.

You reap what you sow.

Happiness is as happiness does.


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About the Author

Tamara Lechner

Certified Instructor: Meditation
Tamara Lechner is a happiness expert and Chopra-Certified Primordial Sound Meditation Instructor. Her mission is to be so happy that those around her cannot help but step into her light. She enjoys writing, speaking, and teaching about how a positive mindset affects business, relationships, health, and life satisfaction. Tamara is often found throwing epic parties or walking barefoot in the sand. Join her on The Happiness Trajectory , a free online mindset reboot, or find out more about her at...Read more