Interview: Jill Muehrcke

TTS: The Top Shelf would like to welcome Jill Muehrcke, author of Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your book.

Jill Muehrcke: I’ve been writing for many years, mostly in the fields of education and the nonprofit sector. But Waking Up Happy is the most personal, from-the-heart book I’ve ever written. I wrote it as a handbook of change – a companion people can keep with them to help them become their best selves.

Over the years, I’ve found that it’s possible to make huge changes in your life if you take it one small step at a time. That’s what I want to help people do – learn to take the simple steps that, in time, will transform their lives and help them wake up happy.

In Waking Up Happy, I tell my own story as well as the stories of my daughter, granddaughter, and over 30 others. These memoirs are filled with tragedies and triumphs, setbacks and epiphanies. Each memoir is  bolstered with concrete, down-to-earth advice, guidance, and tools for growth. Whenever one of the storytellers in the book learns a lesson in their life, I’ve added exercises you can do to make those same changes in your own life.

Near the end of the book, in a chapter called “What Works and What Doesn’t,” I’ve gathered together the keys that helped all the storytellers learn to lead more balanced, rewarding, joyful lives. I’ve also debunked many common strategies that don’t work. The book ends with “365 Steps on Your Journey” – an exercise for each day of the year so that you can continue your journey of growth and self-enhancement.

I’m donating half of all proceeds from Waking Up Happy to the Recovery Foundation (, helping people lead new lives. So when you buy the book, you’ll help change someone else’s life as well as your own!

TTS: In the beginning of the book, you explain how this book came to be. I find that to be a very interesting story. Please share it with the readers.

Jill Muehrcke: For many years, I’d been thinking about writing a book to help people change their lives the way I’d learned to change my own. My vision for the book took flight when I shared it with Shelly Dutch, who is the founder and owner of Connections Counseling Center here in Madison, Wisconsin. She embraced the idea and told all the clients at Connections about it. Then she invited me and everyone interested in being part of the book to a weekend retreat at her cabin in northern Wisconsin.

As I began interviewing people that weekend, I found incredible stories of people who had struggled against all odds to change their lives for the better. I discovered that everyone had a life lesson that had impelled them forward in making changes, and I knew I wanted to share those lessons with others.

TTS: You have included your own story as well as Shelly’s, Adam’s, Skye’s, Shyloh’s, Andrea’s and Marilyn’s. Was there any story that you felt should have been in here that wasn’t?

Jill Muehrcke: The seven stories you mention are indeed the heart of the book. Between those long stories I’ve included a series of “Words of Wisdom and Light,” which are short vignettes from the lives of others. Some of those could have been longer, and I would have liked to include their entire life stories. But I didn’t want the book to be 1,000 pages long! So I boiled down their wisdom to its essence – the main life lesson each person learned. As a result, I think I was able to include all the important life lessons that have proven useful  for people to change their lives.

TTS: There are quotes throughout this book, some are very enlightening while others are fitting and some are just downright amusing. How did you compile those?

Jill Muehrcke: I’ve been collecting quotes from my reading for as long as I can remember – even before college. Whenever I came across something that struck me, I wrote it down. Then, at some point, I arranged my favorite quotations according to subject. So, when writing the book, the perfect quote seemed to jump out at me at just the right time. It was quite magical!

TTS: This isn’t just a self help book, it’s an activity book too. You’ve gathered a huge list of exercises and tests to help readers who are living with and living around an addiction. Really I can’t see anyone not trying at least a handful of ideas from this book even if it’s just to lower their own stress level and relax. How did you come up with these?

Jill Muehrcke: Again, I’ve been collecting exercises for many years, because I found that doing such activities was the best way to help myself become the person I wanted to be. The exercises in the book are well tested, because I tried them all! Out of thousands of exercises that I did over the years, these are the ones that worked best. When I interviewed people for the book, I also asked them what worked best for them, and they all had tricks that I then added to their chapters in the book.

TTS: Have you tried any of these activities yourself while working on this book?

Jill Muehrcke: Absolutely! Writing a book as personal as this was emotionally challenging to say the least. The stress-reducing exercises were crucial, and I did some of them every day! Also essential were the exercises that helped me put my own life and goals in the proper context. Patience is not my long suit, but it was badly needed in the years it took to bring my book to fruition. Doing the exercises each day was what got me through with my sanity intact!

TTS: You all poured huge amounts of yourselves into this project. How has the release impacted yourself and those who contributed?

Jill Muehrcke: It’s so gratifying to see how the book has helped people. Readers are telling us that the combination of memoirs to inspire them and exercises to put that inspiration to use has helped them change their lives when nothing else worked. Everything we put into the book is well worth it when we see how helpful it is to others.

My daughter, granddaughter, and I explain in the book how frank discussions about family “issues” brought us closer and helped us find peace with ourselves. Since the book’s publication, readers tell us that they, too, are opening up with their loved ones and talking about things they thought they’d never have the courage to bring to light. Seeing how we have dug into our histories and how useful it’s been to us has helped them delve into their own family shadows. It’s a crucial step in the process of knowing yourself, which is what leads to productive change and growth.

TTS: Where did you go after writing and putting together this book? What are you working on now?

Jill Muehrcke: I’ve been developing workshops and discussion groups focused on doing and discussing the Waking Up Happy exercises in a group setting. I’ve found that performing the exercises, reflecting on your results, and then talking with others on the same journey is by far the best way to make meaningful, lasting change. So I’m urging book clubs, service groups, colleagues who work together, board members, and any other team of people to take that step. Those who have done so have already made amazing leaps of self-awareness and growth.

TTS: Once again, I would like to thank Jill for joining us. I encourage everyone to pick up this book, it really is an interesting read.

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.


You can visit her website at

Listen to Jill on the Joy Cardin Show at


No matter what kind of change you want to make in your life, WAKING UP HAPPY: A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE holds the keys. As inspirational as it is practical, this first-of-a-kind handbook focuses on the positive steps of recovery and change.

Powerful, absorbing, and beautifully written, WAKING UP HAPPY tells people’s stories, the turning points that changed their lives, and their secrets to waking up happy. Whenever a storyteller learns a new life lesson, you’ll find exercises you can do to put that lesson to use in your own life.

In WAKING UP HAPPY, Jill Muehrcke tells her true story. She also includes the stories of her daughter and granddaughter. Together, these memoirs shine a light on three generations struggling with similar problems and offer clues to how to break the legacy of addiction.

In addition, Jill includes the memoirs of over 30 others recovering from addictions, harmful habits, and intolerable situations. Brave and honest, these stories are filled with triumphs and epiphanies, as well as concrete, step-by-step advice and guidance.

Lessons learned are summarized into secrets you can use to forge your own life-changing journey. The book ends with 365 Steps on Your Journey – one simple step for each day of the year. If you do just one thing from this book every day, you’ll see dramatic growth.

WAKING UP HAPPY is the first book ever to combine memoirs with exercises in a way that ignites change in an almost magical way. Readers say that the combination of true stories and concrete exercises has helped them change their lives as nothing else has been able to do. The memoirs inspire them and the to-do lists prompt them into action.

The exercises are based on decades of research into how people transform their lives. The memoirs provide hope. They show that change really can happen.

Ideally suited to people recovering from addictions or self-defeating habits, WAKING UP HAPPY is also for anyone who has watched a loved one struggle and felt the anguish of not knowing how to help. Indeed, it’s for anyone who longs to move past fear to joy.

One reader calls WAKING UP HAPPY “a treasure trove of delight. It’s like a work/play book in the style and spirit of the Motherpeace books. You can read it straight through or just open it at random and find wisdom.”

Half of all proceeds from WAKING UP HAPPY will go to the Recovery Foundation (, helping people lead new lives.

Buy it now at:
Amazon ( Kindle ) $9.99 | Barnes and Noble ( Nook ) $9.99
Amazon ( Print ) $29.99 | Barnes and Noble ( Print ) $26.99

Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She is an avid reader and is the owner of The Top Shelf

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Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She is an avid reader and is the owner of The Top Shelf