You do something good then the universe rewards you right? That’s what we’ve been told. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t always work out that way.

Last Saturday I was on the tram minding my own business when I noticed we’d been sitting a stop for ages. “What now?” I thought. The tram had been going at a snail’s pace and I was running late to meet my besties for dinner. I looked up and saw an elderly lady struggling to lift her lime green, plastic trolley onto the tram. She was trying to lift it onto the top step but she was wobbling all over the place, unable to get her balance.

People near the tram entrance were focusing on their phones, their backs to the door, and hadn’t noticed the lady struggling. Without thinking I jumped out of my seat, pushed past them and lifted the trolley up onto the tram for her. But as I was helping her into the tram she knocked my iPhone out of my hand and it went bouncing down the aisle. “Shit, that doesn’t sound good,” I thought.

Once the lady was safely in her seat and the tram had sped off a young blonde-haired girl handed me back my phone. It wasn’t pretty. The screen was cracked to the point that I couldn’t read anything on it and huge chunks were missing out of the back. I was pissed off, to say the least. My immediate thought was: “That’s the thanks I get for doing a good deed.” As the tram trip went on, I kept getting angrier thinking how I didn’t have a spare $200 or half-a-day to get it fixed. How I should have stayed seated and let someone else help her. By the time I got off the tram I was fuming.

Now I’m not proud of it, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thought this way. However, after dinner, and some distance, I realised I wasn’t annoyed that my phone was smashed but that I did what I perceived to be the right thing and instead of being rewarded, it felt like I was punished. While the two events – helping the lady onto the tram and my phone being broken in the process – are related, the feelings I had attached to them weren’t.

As a society, I think we’ve been made to believe good things happen to you when you do the right thing. And that you will be rewarded immediately. Now, while I know this to be false in practice, it’s clear from last Saturday that some part of me still wants it to be true. We no longer believe the good act is a reward in itself. Perhaps that’s why when we finally get the confidence to go for a promotion but don’t get it, we tell ourselves not to bother putting ourselves forward again. Or why when we leave a bad relationship but don’t find our soul mate within a few weeks, we go back to our old partner. Or why when we create a piece of art but it doesn’t get the attention we expect, we stop creating.

In hindsight would I still help the lady knowing what would happen to my phone? Yeah, I would. But would I save myself all the worry, anger and frustration? Definitely. Next time you do a good thing – whether it be helping an elderly lady, supporting a friend through a hard time or pushing yourself to try something new – don’t wait for the world to give you anything in return. Instead, quietly acknowledge that you did the right thing, for you, in the moment and that is better than doing nothing at all.

 

Featured image from Pexels.

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