I am concerned with the frequency that I hear people asking this question or echoing the sentiment that it is somehow detrimental to do good things in the world. I'm going on the record to call B.S. Do you want to know what I hear whenever someone says this? What I hear is, "I am looking for an excuse to be selfish." The fact of the matter is that karma exists. It doesn't take much effort to see it at work, although it must be taken into account that this law of cause-and-effect sometimes works in such a way that we don't reap what we have sown until later lifetimes. We should also keep in mind that the law of cause-and-effect applies to thoughts, words, and deeds alike.
People who cultivate an attitude of gratitude don't necessarily have more to be grateful for, but they're more likely to recognize what they do have to be grateful for. People who occupy their minds with love, and whose actions are motivated by that mindset, attract the love and admiration of others. They are healthier and happier than they would be if this were not the case. This is a prerequisite for good, harmonious relationships because healthy people respect themselves enough to stay out of the drama of volatile people, at least to the extent that there is an option.
If a person's attitude is one which is nurtured by love and gratitude, their words and actions will follow suit. This brings good karma in general. Past karma (including past-life karma) is a factor, but what goes around does indeed come around. On the other hand, a few hollow gestures aren't going to go so far. What might outwardly appear to be a good deed isn't so wholesome if it is motivated by greed, narcissism, other forms of self-interest, or if it is accompanied by suspicion.
|Nothing personal, Dos Equis Guy.|
When someone has expectations of people in return for good deeds, these are not good deeds, they're business transactions. If you don't have the foresight to put your terms and conditions in writing, then that says less about the existence of karma than it does about your poor business acumen. A good deed can never hurt if there aren't any expectations attached to it. When someone thinks a good deed entitles them to something, though, that's a recipe for disappointment.
Some times a good deed isn't reciprocated, appreciated, or even acknowledged. So what? That's on the recipient. A good deed is done for its own sake. Or maybe for the sake of making it so that there is a even just a little more good in the world. That doesn't mean putting oneself in a compromising situation, abandoning prudence, or making a martyr of oneself.
I don't believe in good people or bad people. People are just people doing the best they can with the understanding and the circumstances they have to work with at any given moment. By putting in a little effort toward improving the quality of our thoughts, words, and deeds, we are seen as "better people", our subjective experience tends to improve, and our understanding of reality matures. The higher our understanding, the more it becomes obvious that doing the right thing is the best thing for ourselves and others alike. This shift in understanding can be accelerated by taking up a spiritual practice. These are easy changes that we can make which make all the difference in the world.