Good Karma vs. Bad Karma: Examples & Definitions

Updated June 17, 2021
silhouette double exposure of young man

If you've ever heard the phrase, "What comes around, goes around," then you've heard an expression of belief in karma. In many belief systems, karma is a matter of cause and effect. The idea is that the energy you put out into the world returns to you. So, if you engage in positive acts, you reap rewards. When behave in a negative way, you will face the consequences of those actions. Both good and bad karma may be the result of past lives or your current life.

Good Karma Examples

Good karma is the effect of the choices you make. What you think, say, and do can all affect your karma. When you think, say, and do positive things, it returns to you in either this life or another.

A possible example of good karma is a woman who in a past life selflessly cared for the sick, often sacrificing by placing others above herself. In her current life, she is constantly surprised by the generosity of others and never wants for anything. Another example might be that someone who generously gives of their time and money to help others in return experiences prosperity in their current life or in another incarnation.

Bad Karma Examples

Bad karma is the opposite of good karma and results from negative choices or intentions. Bad intentions motivating bad actions create negative results. Like good karma, bad karma can be earned either in your current lifetime or a previous one.

Boy pulling girl's hair in room

One example of bad karma is a man who mistreated his sibling in another life. This bad action reaped bad karma, and he was reincarnated in the same role as his sibling. The law of karma demanded that he experience the effects of his actions in the previous lifetime against the sibling that he persecuted. If he meets his karma without anger, hatred and other negative emotions, he can overcome the bad karma and be free of it in the next lifetime.

Another example is a person who engages in evil acts then becomes the victim of another's evildoing in this life or another.

Instant Karma

You may have heard the term instant karma used to identify when sometimes there is an immediate retaliation for a bad or reward for a good deed. Instant karma is often visited on you when you're in need of an urgent lesson, or when you could use something good to encourage you.

You've probably seen instant karma and just didn't know what to call it. An example would be a person laughing at someone as they slip and fall on an icy sidewalk. The person laughing at the other person's misfortune moves and quickly slips on the ice and falls to the ground. Some people would say the person laughing reaped instant bad karma for their bad action.

An example of instant good karma would be person who finds a lost wallet and returns it to the person who lost it. The owner is overcome with gratitude and rewards the finder with a monetary gift. The person who found the wallet took good action, and the result was instant good karma.

Punishment and Reward vs. Natural Law

Buddhists believe that karma is not a system of external punishment or reward, but rather a natural law arising from the consequences of intentional actions. In Buddhism, karma is the action and not the result of the action. Therefore, Buddhists believe you have complete control over your karma by the thought, words, and deeds you engage in. Buddhists do what they can in their life to cultivate good karma and avoid bad karma through the way they live and the choices they make. Simply put, what you do (karma) is what you experience. Therefore, if you're stuck in a pattern of bad karma, you can change it by changing your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Other faith traditions believe karma is a system punishment or reward driven by an external force. When you do bad, you are punished. When you do good, you are rewarded. In these faiths, it is believed that you must experience the karmic results of your choices, and there is no way to break free of bad karma generated by past events until you've been punished or rewarded accordingly.

New Age Thought About Positive and Negative Karma

In New Age thought, it is believed that karma is a set of circumstances the soul chooses before coming into any lifetime in order to have certain experiences for the purpose of soul evolution. These circumstances include things such as numerology, astrological sign, physical or mental challenges, the place you are born, your family of birth, etc. In this way, karma is neither positive nor negative, although you may experience it as such; rather, it is simply a grouping of circumstances the soul has chosen to provide opportunities for its overall growth and development in this lifetime.

Living Your Karma

How you view karma and how it manifests in your life may result from your personal belief system. While karma is a central concept in many faith traditions, beliefs differ about how karma accrues and plays out in a single lifetime or across multiple lifetimes.

Good Karma vs. Bad Karma: Examples & Definitions