Interview with Jill Muehrcke, author of ‘Waking Up Happy’

Juliana (Jill) Muehrcke is the award-winning author of many books and articles. Founder and editor of the international magazine Nonprofit World (, she has studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan and has a BA degree, specializing in English and psychology, from the University of Washington. Jill is listed in Who’s Who ( In her spare time, she enjoys teaching yoga and eating ethnic food. For many years, in several cities, including Seattle, Honolulu, and Madison, she has written restaurant reviews.

Her latest book is Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of combining memoirs with exercises for readers to do?

WAKING UP HAPPY is the book I wish had existed when I quit drinking 28 years ago. I wanted to see how others had forged new lives. I read every addiction memoir I could find, but they all focused on the years of pain and misery and ended when the person became clean and sober. I already knew about the pain and misery!

I always finished reading these books asking, But what happened next? How did this person move from such a wasted, unhappy existence to a life of joy, productivity, and fulfillment? What were the secrets? How can I do the same thing.

I could find no such book, so I started putting together my own survival kit, which includes many of the exercises I used in WAKING UP HAPPY. I felt that including an exercise when one of the storytellers learned a life lesson was a way to solidify that lesson for the reader. And readers are telling me that it’s true – that this combination of memoirs and exercises has helped them as nothing else has been able to do. The memoirs inspire them, and the exercises move them to act on that inspiration.

Q: Is WAKING UP HAPPY targeted toward people who have addictions?

I think the book will be helpful to anyone who wants to change their life, not only people with addictions or bad habits they want to overturn. I want WAKING UP HAPPY to be a handbook for anyone who wants to become stronger and happier.

To quote from the Introduction to WAKING UP HAPPY: “Everyone’s life cries out for transformation. If you don’t change and grow, you die: Bit by bit, day by day, your innermost soul dwindles and perishes. The cost of not continuing to grow is ultimately feeling half-dead.”

I should note that the subtitle of WAKING UP HAPPY is A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE. Almost everyone can improve their life by making small shifts in their routine and believing in the magic of change. It IS possible!

Q: Is there advice in WAKING UP HAPPY for people who have children or other loved ones who are addicted or who desperately need to change their life?

Absolutely. There are many exercises for those who want to help someone else. In particular, the memoir of my daughter, Andrea, speaks to that issue. She struggled, and is still struggling, with helping her children deal with their addictions, and she shares some invaluable, hard-won advice.

Q: You mention that your daughter is one of the memoirists who tell their stories in your book. Who are the others?

WAKING UP HAPPY begins with my own memoir. Then, in addition to my daughter, I’ve also included my granddaughter’s story. Next is Shelly Dutch, a world-renowned expert in addiction counseling. Shelly has recovered from multiple addictions, including addictions to cocaine and unhealthy eating, to begin Connections Counseling Center, an oasis of recovery in Madison, Wisconsin. Counselors from around the world now seek Shelly out to discover the keys to her amazing success in intervening and halting the process of addiction. She shares these keys in WAKING UP HAPPY.

Additionally, there are over 20 other memoirs of a wide variety of people. Those who tell their stories are young and old, male and female, gay and straight, agnostics and true believers. They’ve recovered from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, pills, meth, cocaine, heroin, sex, shoplifting, abusive relationships, and other self-defeating behaviors. Many have learning disabilities but have learned to access hidden talents and become accomplished professionals. Belying the stereotype of addicts as worthless down-and-outers, they are good citizens who contribute a great deal to their communities and the world.

Q: What did you hope to show by including your daughter’s and granddaughter’s stories in addition to your own story?

I wanted to show how three generations of the same family have dealt with similar problems. Again, I think it’s helpful for anyone, not only addicts. Breaking family legacies is something everyone must do to keep from passing their own issues on to their children and grandchildren. WAKING UP HAPPY shows how all readers can interrupt dysfunctional patterns and create a better future for their families.

Tracing back through your family history isn’t straightforward, because each successive person manifests the dysfunction differently. You may have problems with eating healthily and not see that it’s your parent’s alcoholism in another guise. The breakthrough comes when you realize, for example, that your eating problem is related to your father’s drug problem, which is related to your son’s gambling problem and your daughter’s sex problem.

If you look for the exact same problem in your family history, you’ll likely miss the secret thread. It takes initiative to root out that muted strand, because the most critical issues in a family are often the most closely held secrets.

Sometimes the only way to break this secret code is to talk to your relatives – especially those who are estranged or who moved a far distance away. You may find that they’ve done so to enhance their own mental health.

You’ll find many instances of this in WAKING UP HAPPY. All through my story – throughout my life – I continually unearthed new secrets about my family. And when I interviewed people for the book, I always asked them about their family histories of addictive and dysfunctional behaviors. Often they said there were no such problems in the family. But when I urged them to ask their relatives, they, too, were amazed at the secrets they uncovered.

And the secrets are still coming! Since the book’s publication, readers tell me that they’re  opening up and admitting to things they thought they would never have the courage to share. Seeing how others have dug into their histories, and how beneficial it’s been to them, has helped many other people do the same thing.  It’s an enormously important part of finding your true self, which is what allows you to live your most joyous life.

Q: The first sentence in your memoir is:  Quitting was easy. That sounds counter-intuitive. What do you mean by that?

 Yes, it is counter-intuitive. But it’s true, because alcohol and drugs aren’t the real problem for any addict. So giving them up is only the first step of the journey.

To quote from the Conclusion of WAKING UP HAPPY, “It wasn’t about the drugs. There was always something missing at the core. What was missing was love. We had to learn to love ourselves, the people and environment around us, and finally the larger world.”

It’s not an easy thing to do. It can be a difficult journey, but it’s also an exhilarating adventure. That’s what these stories teach us.

Q: You end WAKING UP HAPPY with “365 Steps on the Journey.” What gave you the idea for it?

 When people finish reading WAKING UP HAPPY, I don’t want them to close the book and forget it. I want them to pick it up every day and do one tiny thing that will change their world.

That’s why I wanted to give everyone who reads WAKING UP HAPPY a year’s worth of exercises, one thing to do every day of the year to make change happen.

Since every person will find different exercises especially helpful, I set out a buffet of options. I think almost anyone will find some activities that resonate with them. It’s not a matter of doing all the exercises but of focusing on those you find most interesting and helpful and continuing to do at least one of them each day. That’s the way to move forward.

Q: Can you tell us more about your background?

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for more than 40 years. Nearly 30 years ago, I founded a magazine called NONPROFIT WORLD, which focuses on management and leadership tips for people working in nonprofit organizations all over the world. I’ve been the editor of NONPROFIT WORLD ever since, and it’s a true labor of love.

I’ve studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan, and have a BA degree, specializing in English literature, creative writing, and psychology, from the University of Washington. I have lived all over the country and now live in Madison, Wisconsin.

In my spare time, I enjoy volunteering, especially teaching yoga. And I love sampling the ethnic food in Madison’s wonderful restaurants. For many years, in several cities, including Seattle and Madison, I have written restaurant reviews.

Q: What would be your advice to someone who wants to make a big change in their life?

The secret is this: Start small.

First write down your goals; articulate the new life you want.

Then write down all the steps you can think of that will move you toward those goals. Break each of those steps down to its smallest ingredient. Move up those steps incrementally, starting with the ones you’re most likely to succeed at doing. Based on that first small success, you’ll find the energy to tackle more major ones. That flush of success will continue to drive you forward.

No matter how minuscule a step may seem, the point is to learn that feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, self-worth, and success. It will feel so good that, soon, you won’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of your dreams.


Q: If people want to buy WAKING UP HAPPY, where should they go? How will they find it?

 The best way is to go to our Website, Or you can find it on Our Website – – is also a place where readers can discuss their reactions to the book and share their own stories. I look forward to seeing you there!



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