My Father's Life-Long Secret to a Good Attitude

He frequently said, "Aren't I fortunate...."




My dad was one of the most joyful people on the face of the Earth. He continually smiled, laughed and appreciated the simple — often overlooked — facets of daily living.


He loved swimming, music, gardening, running, tennis, reading, cooking, and eating. He loved his wife and his daughters with his whole heart. But the ability to love his family so completely came from loving life itself.


Daddy’s been gone more than five years, but his voice still lingers on, both in memories and in the letters who wrote. After serving as a clerk in the Navy at the end of WWII, his typing skills served him well for the rest of his 87 years. Since all three of his daughters and their families lived out of town, he would often compose letters, usually written in the wee hours of the morning when he couldn’t sleep.


Ninety percent of the letters would include mention of the snack he was having while he typed — like how good fried eggs taste at 3:30 a.m., or how a big slice of chocolate cake is the perfect side dish for a sunrise. (Daddy did love to eat.)


All three “Johnson Girls” would receive the same, newsy, cheerful missives pounded out on his old manual typewriter from our house on Driftwood Drive, a sheet of smeary indigo carbon paper separating each of the three pages. (You may not even know about this old-fashioned technique used in the days before personal printers, xerox machines, and electronic mail delivery. It was messy, but it worked.)


The Secret to a Good Attitude

Not long ago, I was reading through copies of the letters Daddy had written over the years. A pattern emerged, and I quickly discovered as an adult what I hadn’t understood as a child: One reason Daddy was always so happy was a simple technique he used over and over. His frequent refrain was

“Aren’t we fortunate that…..”

At any given stage of his life, his letters are filled with gratitude.

  • Aren’t I fortunate that I can work?

  • Aren’t I fortunate that I am retired?

  • Aren’t I fortunate that I can still enjoy _____________. (In every letter, a different activity would complete the phrase: watching the birds / walking around the yard / a good cup of coffee / seeing daffodils come up / cuddling up by the fire when the snow flies…..The list goes on and on.

  • Aren’t we fortunate to be able to do this?

  • Aren’t we fortunate that we have a home?

  • Aren’t I fortunate to have lived long enough to watch my daughters grow up?

  • Aren’t I fortunate to have so many grandchildren?

  • Aren’t we fortunate to have each other?


Daddy Was Onto Something

Filling in the blank of the “Aren’t I fortunate” phrase not only helps acknowledge the many small things I need to be thankful for, but it puts my life in perspective.


By acknowledging what I have, I avoid obsessing about the things I don’t have. I recognize how really blessed I am. So many others long for what I take for granted.


Today, Daddy’s letters would say:

  • Aren’t we fortunate that we live in a time where doctors and nurses and scientists know so much?

  • Aren’t we glad we live in a modern world where we can so easily communicate with people who live far away?

  • Aren’t we lucky that we can entertain ourselves without ever leaving the house because of the amazing advances in technology?

  • Aren’t we fortunate that people are basically good and will always help each other?


“Aren’t we fortunate?” indeed.

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