Does karma lead to happiness?

Buddhism and Karma

Since living in Cambodia, I have learned a lot about the Buddhist belief system, the dominant religion in this country. Of course, I had heard about karma in England but here in Asia people believe wholeheartedly that their actions have consequences, whether in the future their current life or the next. They also believe that when bad luck befalls them, it is because of something evil they have done in the past and they are simply receiving a delayed punishment. These beliefs fundamentally alter how they live their lives: making them not only, in many cases, kinder people, but also less stricken when bad luck does befall them. After all, they deserved it in their minds. So what has this got to do with happiness? Well, I think that what Buddhists would term ‘karma’ can be seen to affect our lives too through the good deeds we do.

Firstly, let’s go into a little more detail about what exactly karma is. I should point out here it is a belief not exclusive to Buddhism and can be found as an aspect of many religions in Eastern Asia but for the purpose of this blog and because of my connection to Cambodia, I will be talking about Buddhist karma. A westernised saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ should be familiar to you and fundamentally this is what karma means. If you do good, you will repaid in the future at some point. And because Buddhists believe in reincarnation, these good deeds don’t have to be rewarded immediately. In fact, karma is considered to impact what status you will be born into for the next life. In a poverty-stricken country like Cambodia, this is a real incentive to do good karmic deeds.

There are two types of karma – skilful and unskilful. Buddhists attempt to eradicate all unskilful karmic acts which are influenced by hatred, greed and ignorance. Through meditative techniques and developing a sense of selflessness, Buddhists believe our lives can become filled with skilful actions which focus on giving, mindfulness and goodwill. Starting to see the connection now? Yes, giving and goodwill are two of the main ways in which Buddhists consider they can achieve good karma.

Karmic acts come in three forms: mind, body and speech. So even thinking kind thoughts can be enough to lead to something good, which makes sense if you think about the impact a positive mind-set has on our lives and our outlook on life. If we’re happier, we’re likely to see and experience more happiness in the world around us. And I say this as a generally happy and optimistic person. Secondly, acts performed by the body are those physical things we do, often linked to giving. Handing out food at a homeless shelter, raising money for charity, giving up your seat on the bus to name a few are all acts we do using our physicality. Finally, speech – kind words can make people’s day. Saying hello in the street or paying a compliment to a colleague can bring a smile to people’s lips and bigger acts such as taking the time to speak to someone who’s feeling down and listening to their problems have a greater impact.

Here are a few more points you need to know about Buddhist karmic beliefs:

  • The more you repeat your good act, the more powerful it becomes – build good deeds into your daily or weekly routine to maximise the karmic points.
  • If you regret your actions, the karma power changes (if you regret a good action, the karma is reduced, but if you regret a bad action, the amount of negative karma accumulated is lessened) – no matter how much you regret murdering someone, however, you’re clearly still going to be reincarnated as a cockroach.
  • If your acts are performed on/for someone who has previously done good for you (e.g. parents/teacher) your karmic reward is increased – because you’re paying them back for everything they have done to help you, in acknowledgement of their assistance in your life.
  • When good deeds are performed in a determined and exemplary manner, the level of karma received is greater – run that marathon just a little bit faster and you’re be rewarded.

Past blogs have spoken about how doing good makes us feel good. I think this is the first link towards karma for us non-Buddhists. Doing something good, makes us feel happy which is an immediate little dose of karma. Additionally, this happiness puts us in a better mood and allows us to enjoy the little things in life. I would argue that regardless of whether you believe in karma or not, the basic principal of good deeds leading to good things happening to you could be proven in any culture. If we do good for others not only are they more likely to do good for us but the innate feeling of happiness we get upon performing this good deed makes us feel better and, almost automatically, improves our outlook on life.

This concept has become part of an academic branch called positive philosophy and has been noted and researched by academics and psychologists in the east and west. What I like, however, is that those who practice Buddhism and other religions which involve karma don’t care about this research nor its relatively new status on the western scene. They don’t need a journal article, a book or even a blog post to tell them that doing good in the world leads to them enjoying a happier life (and afterlife/next life). For them, that’s common sense and I think it is in the west too. We all recognise that kind people are not only good but also, usually happy. The great news is that we can all follow their example, follow these karmic teachings and, by doing our good deeds, we can be happier too. Plus, with the More Good Deeds app, your good deeds can lead to a charity of your choice being donated $1, making it two good deeds in one! Bonus karma for you.

Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.