Investing in karma. This coping mechanism is widely used by people awaiting an uncontrollable outcome. Not only is it altruistic, it increases our optimism, too.
Is it possible to invest in karma? Many people believe it is. According to several recent studies, while we’re waiting for something good to happen to us, we’re more likely to help others. It’s our way of attempting to create good karma for ourselves.
“Everyone is familiar with the basics of reciprocity, the idea that if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We wondered if people think this way even when they aren’t dealing with another person at all, but rather with the universe,” says lead researcher Benjamin Converse, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Psychology at the University of Chicago.
Bargaining with the unknown
Researchers conducted four experiments to test this theory. One group of subjects was asked to write about “an important, unknown outcome they were currently awaiting.” Their situations included pregnancy attempts, graduate admissions, and court proceedings.
Another group wrote about their daily activities. After subjects believed the study was over, researchers asked whether people in each group wanted to donate more time in the lab. They explained the money raised by doing this would feed hungry people in the community or grant wishes for terminally ill kids.
Subjects in the first group who had focused on situations with unknown outcomes were more likely to volunteer extra time for charity.
In another study, researchers split subjects into two groups that attended a job fair. The group that focused on uncontrollable outcomes, such as whether employers would be hiring, donated more money to charity than subjects who focused on controllable outcomes, such as researching a particular industry.
The people who helped charity were the most optimistic about their job prospects. Making a bargain with the Universe appears to make us feel more optimistic about uncontrollable situations in our life.
The researchers found this tendency to donate time or money “counterintuitive” to human nature.
“You might expect that people would be more selfish when thinking about the things in life that they want, but that are beyond their control,” says Converse. “But we found that this experience makes them more likely to reach out and help, at least when they are given the opportunity to do so.”
Our investment in karma may help us cope during the times in our life when we must helplessly await an outcome that is beyond our control. It’s a belief that good things happen to good people. We give in the hopes that the Universe will give back to us.
Researchers concluded that that this belief is beneficial. It leads to altruistic actions on our part and causes us to become more optimistic about the future.
Even when we’re not trying to bargain with the Universe, donating our time as volunteers has the potential to help us as much as it helps others. Check out these alive articles on volunteering.
Volunteering— If It Feels Good, Do It!