Is karma real and should you worry about it?

I detest loose ends.  I’m not talking about stray threads on hems or flyaway strands in my hairdo.  I refer to tasks that are not complete and have been languishing on my to-do list for days, weeks or even months.  I am tortured by un-purchased birthday presents, unpaid bills and unrealized dreams.
I walk around with an ever-present to-do list – in my notebook and in my head – constantly shedding and adding tasks but never decreasing in length.  Some items get carried over from month to month (stain threshold at back door) and others spend only hours on the list (find son’s hockey helmet).   Still others never seem to see the light of day (learn Mandarin) and exist only in my mind hoping to be transferred onto “the list” once some space frees up.
I can connect my general anxiety level to the amount of loose ends I have following me around and keeping me up at night.  When I strike my pen through a completed item, I experience a physical jolt of satisfaction.  The fewer things on my list, the happier I am and I hold to the belief that if I ever reach a zero balance on my to-do list I will experience a level of nirvana that I can only dream of.  When I explain this to people who do not worry about to-do lists, they think I’m crazy but the world needs all of us.
My obsession with loose ends makes it easy for me to believe in karma. Karma is one of those concepts that everyone kind of understands, like global warming or calculus, but can’t quite explain.  Spiritualists would say it’s an ancient universal balancing system while scientists claim it’s nothing more than basic cause and effect.  It is evident in many religious teachings, modern-day proverbs and motivational teachings: you reap what you sow, you get out of life what you put into it, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and so on.
Cause and effect is easy to quantify – neglect your diet and you gain weight – but the more spiritual side is harder to pin down.  Can it really be true that if you go through the world spreading misery, a universal force will see to it that you get what’s coming to you?  And on the flip side, if you treat everyone with kindness and respect, are you guaranteed a life free of pain?  We know it’s not that simple.  We all know horrible people who seem to carry on, get promotions and accumulate riches while others who behave like angels get more than their fair share of bad luck.
When I have knowingly done something unkind to someone, I feel crappy almost immediately and look for ways to “balance my karma” by doing something good.  The bad karma I’ve created for myself gnaws at me until I even it out.  Sometimes, I don’t have to try very hard and the universe takes care of it for me in the form of a parking ticket, plant that dies or skirt that’s suddenly too tight.
So, to bring this back to my loose end theory, unbalanced karmic experiences are loose ends, rights that need to be wronged and wrongs that need to be righted so that I’m back on an even keel, with a blank slate and a promise to “only do good from now on”.
I realize that I’m oversimplifying a complicated concept, or maybe overcomplicating a simple concept, but I think I’m a believer in karma. I realize that it’s impossible to go through life without suffering, but my day-to-day life seems to be better when my outlook is positive and empathetic.
What are your thoughts about karma?  Universal law or new age mumbo jumbo?

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