Mapping letters from the future: Exploring narrative processes of imagining the future

Anneke M. Sools*, Thijs Tromp, Jan H. Mooren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


This article uses Letters from the Future (a health promotion instrument) to explore the human capacity of imagining the future. From a narrative perspective, letters from the future are considered to be indicative of a variety of forms through which human beings construct and understand their future selves and worlds. This is consistent with an interpretive approach to understanding the human mind, which offers an alternative for the current dominant causal-explanatory approach in psychology. On the basis of qualitative analysis of 480 letters from the future, collected online from a diverse group of Dutch and German persons, we first identified five narrative processes operating in the letters: imagining, evaluating, orienting, expressing emotions and engaging in dialogue. Second, using comparative analysis, we identified six types of how these processes are organized in the letters as a whole. These types differ regarding functionality (which of the five processes was dominant); temporality (prospective, retrospective and present-oriented); the extent to which a path between present and future was described; and the vividness of the imagination. We suggest that these types can be used in narrative health practice as ‘pathways’ to locate where letter writers are on their path to imagine the future, rather than as a normative taxonomy. Future research should focus on how these pathways can be used to navigate to health and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-364
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of health psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


  • functionality
  • future imagination
  • psychology of prospection
  • temporality
  • written narrative
  • 2023 OA procedure


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