Although no one likes a “what’s in it for me” attitude, “you get as good as you give” is a universal truth. The principle is often called the Law of Compensation, from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Compensation.” Your reward may not come back to you immediately, or all at once, or in the form you expected, but it will come. 


That said, giving done primarily in hope of getting something back generates negative energy that will significantly reduce the return on your “investment.” Like all universal laws of behavior, the Law of Compensation is repelled by selfishness. That’s not to say you’re forbidden to ask for or even think about the compensation you want—just that you need a better motive than building up your material resources to a point where you won’t have to be “bothered” with giving still more to others. 


But if you want to give in a way that’s guaranteed to be repaid immediately, with interest, the #1 rule is: 


Make it your top priority to increase the overall sum of joy in the world. 


When you give your attention, time, or money with no motive beyond adding to the world’s sum of joy, your own joy will grow exponentially. 


Here are a few ideas you can use every day to spread joy, with little money or time required: 

  • Smile and make eye contact with everyone you interact with, even the stranger who asks you to push their floor button on the elevator. Just acknowledging someone else’s presence and humanity will brighten their day. 
  • Speaking to someone is another way to acknowledge them; when you’re asked to push that floor button, add a quick “Sure” or “Be glad to” to your smile and eye contact.  
  • Say “thank you” at every opportunity: to the fellow customer who holds the door for you, the barista who serves your coffee, the server who clears your used plate, even the janitor who had to finish cleaning the restroom before you could use it.  
  • Without seeming so familiar as to generate talking-to-strangers nervousness, look especially for opportunities to thank children for being helpful, well-behaved, or patient. Preschoolers and elementary schoolers, in particular, often feel ignored or belittled by adults, and a simple moment of dignity will leave them walking three inches taller for the rest of the day. (If the children are your own, it will also increase good behavior in your home by focusing attention on the positive.) 
  • Send up a prayer for the depressed-looking stranger across the aisle or the anxious face being interviewed on the television news. 


And if someone responds to your joy-spreading attempt with a snarl? Pray that they will meet with regular kindness and understanding to refill their joy banks. Being sympathetic instead of resentful will let your own joy supply continue to grow.