Voluntary Work as Embodied Aboutness: How the Act of Volunteering Becomes Meaningful

  • Mark van VuurenEmail author
  • Silvie J. Pothof


Volunteering is an activity with a wide range of positive outcomes, particularly for the target of the effort. Still, volunteers can benefit from their activities as well. This is interesting, because the very essence of engaging in an activity voluntarily means that volunteers act “without expectation of reward” (Snyder & Omoto in Social Issues and Policy Review 2, p. 2, 2008) for themselves. But the by-catch of benefits for the volunteers is reported too structurally to be marginalized as mere incidents. Further, the volunteers are often surprised when they reflect on the positive outcomes of their volunteering activities for themselves. As they start with a focus on making a difference for others, they do not expect the richness of differences volunteering activities make in their own lives. This chapter presents a phenomenological study of volunteering experiences in India and what it means to engage in volunteering, with the aim to propose an intervention for experiencing meaning in life. In line with phenomenology’s accent on uncovering experiences and meanings, this chapter yields insights into concrete volunteering actions, unintended effects of volunteering and what engaging in volunteering means for the volunteers themselves. Data were collected by means of 37 semi-structured interviews. Embodied compassionate actions formed the core of volunteers’ work experiences. The frameworks of Embodied Aboutness and Meanings of Life were used as means to structure the embodied compassionate actions and the meaningful outcomes of volunteering. Seven embodied compassionate actions and seven meaningful outcomes were identified. The CARE-protocol (Context, Aboutness, Reflect and Engage) is proposed as an intervention for those who want to experience meaningfulness as well. From our study it appears to be valuable to conduct additional studies on embodied psychology.


Volunteering Meaning in life Experience Embodiment Compassion Emotion 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication ScienceUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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