Juliana (Jill) Muehrcke is the award-winning author of many books and articles. Founder and editor of the international magazine Nonprofit World (snpo.org), 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 (MarquisWhoswho.com). 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.
Thanks for this interview, Jill. I’m so excited about your new book, Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope. Can you tell us a little bit about it and why you wrote it?
Jill: I wrote Waking Up Happy as a handbook of change – a companion people can keep with them to help them become their best selves. Everyone’s life cries out for change of some sort. But the prospect of changing your life is often daunting and anxiety-provoking. So it’s common to procrastinate.
That’s why I created Waking Up Happy – to help people take the small, simple steps that, in time, will transform their lives and help them wake up happy. The book is of special interest to those who want to give up an addiction to a drug, person, or self-limiting behavior or to exchange an unhealthy habit for one that’s more life-affirming. But even if you don’t have any specific change you want to make, you can use the keys in the book to learn to live the best, most fulfilling, bliss-filled life possible.
In Waking Up Happy, I tell my true story, the stories of my daughter and granddaughter, and over 30 others. These stories 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 the 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 (www.recoveryfoundation.net), helping people lead new lives. So when you buy the book, you’ll help change someone else’s life as well as your own. One of those win-win-win things!
Where this is a collection of memoirs from others who have had transformations in their lives, how did you collect these?
Jill: I had thought about writing this book for a long time. 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 (www.connectionscounseling.com). 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. There, I began interviewing people as we got into the spirit of the book.
The contours of the book fell into place that weekend. Then I continued interviewing people over the next three years, teasing out their stories of pain and triumph and bringing their life lessons into focus in a way that could help readers make their own transformational changes.
I know all the stories are dear to your heart and are very moving, which story can you recollect that has the most impact?
Jill: Each storyteller has compelling lessons to share and does so in a way that helps readers adopt those same lessons for themselves. Roger’s story is a good example.
Roger was molested by his priest as a boy, and his parents refused to believe him. He describes how the pain of those years of abuse turned him into another person.
Even more movingly, he explains how he learned to forgive what seems unforgivable. He used a creative imaging approach to make peace with the ghosts of the past. First he forgave the priest, then his parents, then the church itself. Finally, and most important of all, he learned to forgive himself.
You may not have endured such excruciating experiences, but you undoubtedly have people you need to forgive, including yourself. Forgiving yourself for being flawed and imperfect is harder than it sounds, but it’s pivotal to living a happy life. Roger tells in detail how to go about it, and his story shows that it is possible and that it is incredibly life-changing. Only when you rid your heart of regret, shame, and resentment can you fill it with love, gratitude, and joy.
What did you learn from these people?
Jill: Their greatest gift to me was their courage. It was their brave recounting of their lives that gave me the fortitude to plunge ahead and tell my own story. This was the first time I had ever written down all the hurtful and challenging incidents of my life and what I learned from each one. I don’t know if I ever would have done it if I hadn’t seen how inspirational other people’s stories were and what powerful lessons they had to share.
I learned that all of us who have worked to improve our lives, no matter how different our paths, are on the same odyssey. I learned that, for each of us, the darkness itself became the light that showed us the way. I learned that we’re all stronger than we ever thought possible – and that we’re stronger still – immeasurably strong – when we join with others on the pilgrimage.
The exercises you mention in the book, what kind of exercises are they? Can you give us an example?
Jill: An example from my own story has to do with the importance of unraveling family secrets and tracing family patterns. As I dug into my past, I was astounded at how many dark legacies I found lurking beneath the surface – and how radically my life changed each time I tunneled through those hidden recesses.
Pinpointing family patterns is something we all must do to keep from passing on our own issues to our children and grandchildren. We must also do it for ourselves, because we can’t make progress in our lives if poisonous secrets are left unexamined.
But unearthing family lore isn’t straightforward, because the deepest insights are often linked to the most closely held secrets in a family. Beginning the excavation can be hard. So I’ve provided a number of exercises, steps, and tips you can use in your own treasure hunt.
For instance, you may want to start by talking to your more distant relatives. Many of them have memories, insights, and perspectives on the family that are pure gold. Often they’re just waiting to be asked the right question. They want to unburden themselves of ancient secrets, but they don’t think it’s their place to do so and aren’t sure how to bring up the subject. You’ll be amazed what they’ll tell you if you just ask.
Here are some good questions to invite your relatives to discuss: What do you remember about me when I was an infant, child, and adolescent? What do you recall about my parents when they first met? Do you know of any addictions, mental illness, dysfunctions, or other secrets anywhere in the family tree? What about those branches of the tree that never made it into the family bible? How do you feel about your own parents and siblings? How do you think they feel about you? Why?
Ask them if they have any old photos or videos of the family, and show them whatever you can collect in the way of visual history. Sharing such images is sure to awaken memories and loosen tongues.
Consider planning a vacation to a place where one or more of your relatives or old family friends have moved. Take the opportunity to chat about the family.
Talking to your relatives will pave the way for conversations with your parents. Meet with them separately. You’re unlikely to learn much of interest if you speak to both parents at once.
Ask your parent questions like these: What was going on in your life just before and after I was born? What are some of your memories of your parents, siblings, and other relatives when you were growing up? When you think back on your life, what do you wish you had done differently? Again, it’s helpful to discuss such matters while looking at old family photos or videos together.
Siblings are another good source of family knowledge. All children have their own unique perspective on the family. The more you share your own memories, the more surprised you may be at the different light each of your siblings can shed.
As people grow older, they’re often more willing to open up. If your parents and other relatives are tight-lipped, try again later. Keep asking gentle questions in a variety of non-threatening ways.
Once you’ve disentombed the secrets in your family, it will be much easier for you to rewrite the stories you tell about who you are. You can transfigure them from narratives of blame, guilt, and limitation to stories of resilience, gratitude, and empowerment. You can turn yourself from a victim to the hero of your story. You can reshape your life by changing the tales you tell.
These are just a few of the suggestions in Waking Up Happy for seeking out toxic secrets, loosening their hold, and learning to see yourself with new eyes. Throughout the book, I’ve provided simple, clear-cut, step-by-step exercises and to-do lists to make it easy for you to begin your journey and to support you on your way.
What’s next for you, Jill?
Jill: Right now, I’m encouraging everyone who is in a group (such as a book club, support group, nonprofit association, or service club) to have the whole group read Waking Up Happy and then meet with me (either in-person or virtually) to discuss it. I’ve started holding such discussion groups with Rotary Clubs, for instances, and businesses, organizations, and college departments that want to provide training for their people.
At these meetings, we do some of the exercises together and explore our discoveries. It’s so exciting to support people as they use Waking Up Happy to overturn outdated ways of doing things and make huge forward strides.
It’s clear that doing the exercises in the book, writing down your results, pondering them, and then sharing them with others is the core secret to forging real, lasting change. My goal is to help as many people as possible become the change they want to see in the world.
Thank you again for this interview, Jill. Can you tell us where we can pick up a copy of your book?
Jill: The best way is to go to my Web site, www.WakingUpHappyBook.com . That’s also the place to share your own story with others on the same journey of change. I look forward to hearing from you there!