"It's easy to feel like a hero. It's a little harder to be one."If being good were as easy as most cartoons make it out to be, everyone would be a saint. Truth is, sometimes Being Good Sucks. Doing the right thing doesn't always feel good, is hard to pull off, can be painful, sometimes even harmful, to yourself and others. Being good requires a Heroic Sacrifice, keeping your word, and thinking of others before yourself. It means swallowing your pride, owning up to and apologizing for your mistakes. It means doing the above without expecting a reward (even a spoken thank you), refusing one if offered, and most ego-crushing, accepting the punishment for being good. The variations are endless, but below is a condensed catalog:
- Sacrificing your own happiness: It can be any type of happiness, be it denying romance to protect the Love Interest, or where their quest To Be a Master is leveraged against a friend's life when the Friend or Idol Decision comes along.
- Giving up your ambitions: Usually these are selfish or dark ambitions, and denying them helps the character in the long run. When a character wants Revenge for the murder of a loved one in a world where If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him, their giving up murder (though not necessarily forgiving the villain) will cost them dearly but ultimately be the right thing. However, this can extend to less dark goals, when Ambition Is Evil. If the story deems the character's dream as "selfish" or bad, they have no choice but to give up.
- Good behaviour. Obvious as it is, being good requires acting good. This means sharing, forgiving others, not killing people and generally acting contrary to one's impulses to be a Jerk Ass to those disliked. No matter how much they may wish or be tempted to do otherwise.
- Humility and honesty. Honesty is a big source of Suck when being good. It means that any wrong doing on your part (or your friends') must be revealed. Worse, it means denying Protagonist-Centered Morality and obeying the law. The character may find that to do what is right means going against stupid laws, becoming a wanted man, separated from loved ones, with their "reputation" ruined.
- Guilt over bad deeds - and not doing enough good.
- Being good would require the character to stop being nice. Often in dilemmas where the character has to choose to either uphold a moral standard or being kind to others. Whether it's being Cruel to Be Kind, telling an uncomfortable truth, or calling out your loved ones for their mistakes, the character will have to put aside their nice attitude and do what they have to do for the sake of doing what's right. The character will not enjoy this at all. This may cause other characters to hate and resent the hero for making tough decisions that he is morally obligated to do.
- Redemption: A character realizing that Being Evil Sucks will turn to the side of good, only to find out that it comes at a price since Redemption Equals Affliction. This means the character has to put aside their ego and acknowledge that they are in the wrong, accept their karmic punishment, and work to regain the trust and respect from others, even if people aren't willing to forgive or at least forget what they've done.
- Giving up on a Love Interest, so that they can be truly happy with someone else, or somewhere else, or doing something else. You may end up with someone else...or you may end up a Celibate Hero or dead.
- Giving up some comfort because someone else has a Greater Need Than Mine.
- Dying for a loved one, or a cause.
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- Anpanman. Sometimes feeding the hungry means getting your head chewed apart on a daily basis.
- Fushigi Yuugi. Being the Priestess sucks. Either you use your wishes solely for the good of others (with the possible exception of making one specifically to get home safely) and put up with Virgin Tension in a Cast Full of Pretty Boys deterring your love life, or you are consumed body and soul by the Beast God you summon if you fail this Secret Test of Character.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica :
- Sayaka's attempt at being The Cape backfires because the strain of fighting as a Magical Girl while not getting what she wanted causes her sanity to start leaking down the drain. Adding insult to injury, she ends up turning into the very thing she was fighting against in the first place.
- The ending also qualifies, as Madoka's tradeoff for saving magical girls from their inevitable fate was her family and friends (save Homura) forget she exists.
- Thanks to Madoka, this is ultimately inverted. Magical Girls who fight the good fight are implied to be taken to Magical Girl Heaven by Madokami when their soul gems tarnish.
- Attack on Titan: Jean comes to realize this after joining the Survey Corps. Doing the right thing, in this case, involves giving up his shot at a comfortable life in order to regularly risk his life fighting Titans. He readily admits that it sucks, while remaining resolute in his decision.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- Gohan's future self in The History of Trunks certainly qualifies. After witnessing his father and all of his friends die at the hands of the androids, Gohan went into hiding in order to train himself to become strong enough to challenge this new threat. He spent his entire adult life challenging the androids to no avail, watching as countless innocents died at the hands of the monstrous duo. His reward for all of his self-sacrifice was to lose his left arm, and in the next and final fight between him and his two nemeses, Gohan was completely outmatched, killed, and left face down in the ruins of yet another city he failed to protect. And then a sad rain falls over his battered, crippled corpse; it's a miracle that such a tragic sight didn't push Trunks over the Despair Event Horizon.
- While Goku is usually the pagan for Good Feels Good, he does have a moment like this moment after Frieza is defeated. He really, really, wants to leave Frieza to die after he's cut to pieces on his own energy disc, but Goku's morality won't allow him to ignore a call for help, even from an evil monster like Frieza. He eventually gives in to his conscience and gives Frieza enough energy to escape the exploding planet. For several minutes afterwards, Goku is noticeably glum, as if asking himself why he saved Frieza, while Frieza spends that time mocking him for his mercy before trying to stab him in the back.
- He has another moment near the end of the Buu Saga. After Kid Buu unleashed an energy ball powerful enough to destroy the Earth several times over, Goku and Vegeta rushes to Gohan, Goten, Trunks, and Piccolo, who are still unconscious after being absorbed by Buu, to teleport them off the planet. On his way, Goku sees Mr. Satan and Dende. On instinct, he grabs them and wasted too much time to save his sons and have to be saved by the Supreme Kai. Vegeta chews him out for saving them instead of their children, and Goku has nothing to say for himself.
- The reason Yamcha fought the Saibamen was to protect Krillin who wanted to go next. As he pointed out, Krillin was revived already with the Dragon Balls so him dying would have been permanent, while he could be revived if the worst happens. For his good deed, Yamcha gets suicide bomb by the Saibaman, making him the first casualty of the Saiyan Invasion and he never even gets the chance to fight Nappa. And worst of all, the fandom won't ever let him live it down.
- Spider-Man: Spider-Man is the best of the good guys because he always has the option of walking away. He can just throw away his costume and live in obscurity whenever he chooses, but he doesn't. He accepts that the good he does is worth the price he pays and fights the good fight. It's slightly masochistic, really but it's not his fault.
- Daredevil's life as both a crime-fighter and lawyer have caused tragedy in his life. Being good sucks but it really, really sucks when you fight crime with both identities in "Hell's Kitchen".
- The X-Men protect a world that fears and hates them. This is why The Brotherhood never wants for recruits.
- Doom Patrol. The world thinks they're freaks, the other superheroes think they're strange, and they have the highest fatality rate of any hero team in the DCU. No less than three of the team's incarnations have died.
- Superman. Sure, he has better publicity than Spider-Man except for the government conspiracy that wants to kill him and all of his people and most of his friends and family are still around (except for Pa Kent), but deep down he really just wants to be Clark Kent. Like Spider-Man, he could just leave the Superman identity behind and live his life — if he could ignore the screams for help his super hearing picks up every minute of every day.
- This is one of the major themes of Sin City. Every protagonist goes through crap and sometimes has to forfeit his life in order to do the right thing.
- Batman: At any point he could give up his identity and live the easy life as Bruce Wayne. Instead he goes out, night after night, fighting everything from common thugs, to a Monster Clown to gods.
- Robin and the rest of the Batfamily tend to go through this as well. The recurring theme is generally about determination and staying true to your ideals in the face of the worse.
- John Constantine the Hellblazer is a Knight in Sour Armor. When there's a time that he's being a goody-good shoes, the world fucks him. Not only that, his friends, that sometimes joins him in his goodly crusades, gets fucked too.
- The Runaways have spent several years serving as Los Angeles' only significant superhero presence, protecting the area against aliens, monsters, and the occasional supervillain. And what is their reward? Tony Stark has repeatedly tried to shut them down, and once managed to drive them out of Los Angeles, not to mention repeated harassment by social services.
- A back-up story, "The Day the Strangers Came", in The Avengers Volume 1, Annual #19 (July 1990), has a boy named Hubie with a severe case of Hero Worship who discovers the people staying at his parents' bed & breakfast are actually the Avengers. He rushes to tell his brother this, only to discover his brother is the leader of the terrorist group the heroes are trying to locate, and he's planning on nuking Los Angeles and New York City. With a heavy heart, he goes into the guests' room and confesses what he's learned. Then, as the radio gives a news report about the Avengers thwarting the terrorist threat, he sadly goes to his room, puts away his super-hero costume, and takes down all of his super-hero posters.
He knows he did the right thing. And if he has to again, he will. It's just, now, he doesn't want to anymore.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
- In Act III, after it becomes known that Tsukune and his friends destroyed a branch of Fairy Tale, their reward for their heroism is to face merciless bullying and abuse from nearly the entirety of the Yokai Academy student body, who believe them to be posers and fakes claiming to have beaten back Fairy Tale to get attention. Eventually, Felucia gets so sick of the harassment that she actually suggests to her friends that they just let Kuyou burn the school to the ground when he strikes.
- Comes up again in Acts V and VI, where the gang's reward for saving the world from Alucard is to face suspicion and mistreatment from the humans in the wake of The Unmasqued World, to the extent that they get arrested and nearly executed simply for being monsters.
Films — Animated
- Megamind: Metro Man's belief in this trope led to him fake his own death so that he could finally get a chance to live his own life.
- A theme in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam:
Billy Batson: "Be good and good will follow." That's what my parents used to always tell me. But, you know, Mr. Kent, I was good before they were taken from me. I was good at the foster home. And I was good fifteen minutes ago. I'm starting to think being good isn't good for me.Clark Kent: It seems that way sometimes, doesn't it? But that's because good is hard. Bad is always easy.
Films — Live-Action
- Casablanca. All three of the primaries make (or try to make) personal sacrifices for the greater good, and as often as not, it hardly matters. They all get a roughly happy ending, but none of them get what they want.
- Die Hard: Over the course of all five movies John McClane has come to believe this trope. Despite saving the day all those times, his family life has fallen apart and he gets little respect at work. He continues to save the day simply because he's "that guy", as he puts it in his own words.
- Kaji from The Human Condition tries his best to prove humanity good by being altruistic, but suffers continually as a result of the title.
- Referenced in Star Wars: "Is the dark side stronger?" "No, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive."
- In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy refuses Glenn's advances because they were there for Tina's benefit and needed to behave themselves. Later, Glenn hears Tina and Rod having loud, enthusiastic sex in the room above him. He sighs and says "morality sucks."
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow learned this lesson long before the movies began. Though his father was a high-ranking pirate, Jack tried to find legitimate work as a merchant in the East India Trade Company. Then one day he discovered his cargo was slaves, whom he freed. His employer at the time Cutler Beckett branded Jack as a pirate and sank his ship. Ever since then Jack has tried his best to live for himself and only himself. Unfortunately he can't always ignore his conscience...and when he does follow it he usually ends up suffering for it.
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Doniphon sacrifices his One True Love (and credit for killing the titular character) for the sake of winning US statehood of an unnamed Western state.
- George Bailey, from It's a Wonderful Life. He sacrifices his college life to keep the Building and Loan out of Potter's hands, stays on as CEO to keep the Board of Directors from shutting it down, gives his honeymoon money to the B&L members so they won't sell in a panic and is about to take blame for his uncle's mistake to keep him out of prison. Fortunately, it all pays off in the end. After his uncle misplaces an envelope of $8,000 and Bailey's suicide attempt is cut short by Clarence, followed by a visit to a universe he doesn't exist in, Bailey returns home to see all his friends pouring all their life savings into a basket, making him the richest man in town. Also, Clarence, after the hardships he went through helping Bailey, including falling into the river Bailey was going to end up in, being thrown out of a bar in Pottersville, and nearly being strangled by a cop before being saved by Joseph, is implied to have finally gotten his wings in his final note to George at the very end..
- Discussed a lot in Night Watch: the protagonist constantly wonders if it is really worth being good if all he does is angst about not being able to do more. Even if he does do more, the terms of the Treaty grant the Dark Ones the right to do more harm to balance the good. For example, if he cures someone's cancer, the Dark Ones are allowed to give someone else a terminal illness. Some newer Light Others snap and try to give happiness to everyone. Who has to stop them? Their fellow Light ones. Additionally, the Day Watch has to give out licenses to vampires and werewolves, condemning random humans to either death or forced conversion.
- Discworld:It's a fairly well-known fact that Granny Weatherwax is only good reluctantly. She has stated that she only became the Good One because her sister usurped her chance to be the Bad One. In Maskerade Granny gets an entire speech about all the things she could do if she'd just let herself be Bad, but sadly admits that when you know the difference between Right and Wrong you can't choose Wrong.
- The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden's life would be one hell of a lot easier if he wasn't so prone to trying to save people. Additionally, if he was more amenable to making questionably-moral bargains with supernatural nasties, he could be a god by now.
- Harry lampshades how Being Good Sucks when he's lent a Rolls Royce just as the situation starts to hit rock bottom. He finds the car irrationally comforting because he knows there's no way he's driving to his death in a car that nice.
- In Ivanhoe, Rebecca refuses to marry Wilfred of Ivanhoe because she was Jewish and he was Christian and crossovers were looked down on on both sides. Sir Walter Scot said specifically that he was trying to avert Good Feels Good because he thought teaching readers to be good for that reason was a Family-Unfriendly Aesop.
- Played with in the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels, where the heroes have to acknowledge that being ethical often sucks, due to how ineffective it sometimes makes them. During this particular timeframe in the Star Trek 'verse, the Federation doesn't yet exist, meaning that those who live by an actual code of ethics have it far harder than in later eras. The people of Rigel X and Adigeon Prime demonstrate the lifestyle that ensures prosperity in this era; selfish greed, piracy, and a general policy of closing your eyes to injustice. Indeed, The Leader of the Thelasian Trade Confederacy in Rosetta almost pities humans for their appeal to ethics. In The Good That Men Do, Archer and Shran acknowledge that currently the "good guys" are somewhat powerless; while at a slave market on Rigel X, there isn't anything they can do to help without bringing a worse fate down on themselves. As Shran is often a Honor Before Reason character, he does it anyway.
- A recurring theme in A Song of Ice and Fire, such as Ned Stark, whose unrelenting efforts to do the right and honorable thing ultimately result in his execution, the near-destruction of his family and all the many calamities that Westeros has endured since his death.
- Jon Connington was exiled in disgrace for failing to find and kill Robert Baratheon. He complained that he could have done no more later in life to a companion, who retorted that Tywin Lannister would have simply burned the town to the ground and dug out Robert's bones.
- Airframe: Towards the end of the book, the heroine is feeling this way. She's been investigating a strange near plane crash and has been trying to do the right thing throughout and all she has to show for her efforts are a couple of videos showing the terrifying ride, she's being hounded by reporters who sense blood in the water, and it turns out she's been set up to take the fall if the plane is discredited.
- The Marquis de Sade's most famous novel is literally subtitled The Misfortunes of Virtue.
- Trapped on Draconica: Daniar wonders if her merciful nature is a curse because her enemies keep coming back to torment her.
- If one trope were to sum up Jean Valjean of Les Misérables, this would be it. His first struggle, after getting out of prison, is to learn that being good is worthwhile. It's remembering that lesson in the years afterwards that proves the challenge. Time after time, he's presented with chances to escape the law and live the life that would best please him, but at someone else's expense - and, even though no-one would ever be the wiser, he always chooses right, even if it means putting himself through hell to do so. Having an adoring adoptive daughter takes the edge off.
- Referenced in Harry Potter similar to the Star Wars example above. Dumbledore stresses that the decision is between "what is right, and what is easy."
Live Action TV
- Smallville: Clark Kent has had many hard decisions, but he always makes the difficult and right ones.
Clark: But what about you, Chloe? Chloe, I'm gonna spend every second looking for you. I will find a way to save you!
- Touched on in "Nemesis". Lex Luthor is trapped in some underground tunnels rigged to explode. Clark and Chloe are sorely tempted to leaving him to die for what he did to Chloe and her mother before, but she reminds him that he doesn't get to choose whom to save, or otherwise he won't be Clark Kent.
- When Chloe ran away with Davis Bloome so she could keep Doomsday in check and protect Clark, seemingly forever, there was this exchange:
Chloe: I must have thrown a million green rocks away and I've never really saved you. Now, I can.Chloe: Clark, if there's one lesson I've learned from you, it's that choosing the greater good is never a sacrifice.
- She gets a small one in "Sacrifice" when she clearly doesn't like her decision to save Tess.
- Dean, Sam, Cas, Bobby and everyone else fighting to save the world get no reward and endure seemingly endless suffering for their heroism.
- The bad guys lampshade this. Meg Masters, a demon, is in the process of what could have been a Heel–Face Turn (if she hadn't been killed by Crowley later that same episode.), and complains, "I'm... kinda good. Which sucks."
- Battlestar Galactica,
- Roslin, Tory, Tigh and Dualla Help rig the presidential election so that Roslin wins. A Baltar presidency was thought by most intelligent characters to be potentially disastrous because his platform was for settling the fleet permanently on a less than ideal planet rather than find Earth. Adama finds out and calls out Roslin on it. Despite her less than stellar moral record, she was a champion of democracy for much of the series (despite her veering dangerously close to authoritarianism at times), so this gets her to tearfully confess and call off the fraud as a matter of principle.
- In the pilot miniseries, Helo gave up his seat on a Raptor ride off of Caprica to Dr. Baltar, thus condemning himself to an almost certain death, because Baltar was one of the Colonies' most brilliant scientists and thus Helo thought Baltar was more important to the human race's survival. The same Baltar who, unbeknownst to any other human, had given Number Six access to the Colonial defense mainframe, causing the holocaust in the first place. It doesn't turn out that bad for Helo afterward, but in the Miniseries itself this is definitely the trope played.
- Also during the Pegasus story arc. It was obvious that Admiral Cain was going to take over and completely undermine everything Adama and Roslin believed, and yet Adama was reluctant to do anything about it. (Probably because he had faced many of the difficulties she had.) Roslin has to practically order him to have her assassinated. Both Adama and Cain make plans to off the other, but wind up calling it off. Fortunately, Baltar released a Cylon prisoner who really hated Cain, and she did the job.
- Joss Whedon is the patron saint of this trope. It's one of his defining characteristics as a writer that he will put the hero/heroine through the wringer, deconstruct their struggles using cruel real-world logic, make their life utterly fall to pieces, and occasionally force them to fight their former friends or loved ones to the death, and yet still have them stand up and be the best damn hero they can be.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Buffy constantly angsts about having to shoulder a hero's burden and fight the tough fight alone, brushing off her friends and acting in her own words — well, lyrics — "brave and kind of righteous". It's pretty much a compulsion with her....or a form of self-flagellation, if we're being less charitable. The one time she actually thinks she gave up, when Dawn is taken by Glory in season five, it's enough to render her catatonic.
- Season six juxtaposes Buffy's financial hardships with the nefarious yet (mostly) harmless exploits of the supervillain Trio as they use magic and sci-fi gadgets to rob banks and steal diamonds. This trope got significantly darker as the season went on, which led some viewers to cry "Seasonal Rot!" and others to claim it was one of the best.
- Angel also gets some of this on his own show. Once a horrific vampire, he was given a soul and forced to deal with the accumulated guilt of more than a century of evil deeds. In combination with his constant struggle against his vampiric urges, never-ending struggle against the forces of evil, constant loss of hopes for a Happily Ever After, he knows for a fact the bad guys Wolfram & Hart, an evil law firm who regularly employ Screw the Rules, I Have Money! and Connections!, don't have to play fair at all, like he does. Season two chronicled his slow descent into ruthlessness and depravity as he said, "Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!," and tried to strike the coup de grace against the Senior Partners.
- Angel and Cordelia's nascent romance in season three is nipped in the bud by the arrival of Groo, leaving Angel waiting miserably in the wings, while at the same time bearing the heartache of having his son stolen from him by an old vampire hunter nemesis who is unmoved by Angel's reformation.
- Season five was made of this trope, as Angel tries to reform Wolfram & Hart from within and turn it into a force for good. He finds himself listless and directionless, and has to contend with the fact that vampiric upstart Spike may be a better champion than he is.
- Simon got rewarded for rescuing his sister by having to live a life on the run for the rest of his life, where he periodically gets threatened with gunshots and being burnt to death.
- Mal and Wash get kidnapped and tortured for refusing to steal medicine from a planet where an epidemic had broken out. (Then there's the time and fuel they wasted without even getting paid.)
- In Serenity, Mal refuses to hand River over to the Operative, knowing he'll either kill her or send her back to the Academy for more Mind Raping. The Operative responds by slaughtering as many of Mal's friends and associates as he can find, including Sheppard Book.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In 24, if Jack Bauer would simply let someone else worry about national security, he might have a good day. Being Jack Bauer, this will never happen.
- In Doctor Who:
- The Doctor has to deal with this all the time, in particular during his tenth incarnation. He's constantly trying to do the right thing, often though, his over objectivity causes more trouble than it seems worth (see what he did to Harriet Jones career - by ruining her career because she made a choice he considered immoral, he unintentionally paved the way for the Master to become prime minister and turn Earth into a dystopia in a prequel to destroying it completely). People also tend to get killed trying to save him, leaving him with one hell of a Guilt Complex. In particular...
- The Twelfth Doctor's Story Arc in Series 9 boils down to this trope. Having faced so much loss in his efforts to do good (Chronic Hero Syndrome and Samaritan Syndrome) by this point in his lives, he is too determined to hold himself to his chosen name and save people — even being willing to bend the laws of time, space, life, and death to do so. In "The Girl Who Died", he faces a Sadistic Choice: let Ashildr die and bereave a family, or save her in a way that makes her functionally immortal. He rashly defies the fates and does the latter. Centuries later in "Face the Raven" Ashildr traps and delivers him to the Time Lords — his own people, who wouldn't exist if not for him. Talk about No Good Deed Goes Unpunished! Then his companion Clara — also prone to Chronic Hero Syndrome — ends up dead when the plan goes awry. And then in "Heaven Sent" he willingly endures a torture chamber for her; in the aftermath, a man distinguished by compassion for others doesn't receive it when he's been Driven to Madness. Now at the Despair Event Horizon he becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds in "Hell Bent", seeking Revenge against his enemies and risking all of space and time to get Clara back. Thankfully for everyone he repents...but Redemption Equals Affliction: he loses her and crucial memories of her via Mind Rape. With all to show for his trouble the ability to accept loss, the means to return to Gallifrey someday, and a new sonic screwdriver, he ends the series at a loss on the personal level. Poor guy...
- Jack Harkness has a case of this in the Ninth Doctor's run. When he goes into a suicide mission against the Daleks, he says that he was better off a coward.
- Highway To Heaven: Jonathan the angel and his sidekick Mark Gordon both dislike the fact that they have to do God's will when they'd rather beat someone up. In one episode, Jonathan goes against God's will and beats up a group of guys for stealing a guy's lunch.
- Black Adder: A Blackadder's Christmas Carol seemingly confirms this trope, showing the main character just how much Being Good Sucks and how improved his life and the lives of his descendants will be if he turns evil. Then it goes and inverts it at the end by having Blackadder's newly acquired nasty behavior cost him a knightship and a large sum of money. (Although said behavior did finally get all of his leeching freeloaders off of his back, so that accounts for something.)
- On Bones, Booth's boss, the Deputy Director of the FBI has a teenaged daughter who's dying from lung cancer. Bones refuses to let it lie (as that's very unusual) and discovers that her broken leg the previous year was grafted not with a 20-year old donor's body part, but the bone from a 60+ year old woman who was riddled with cancer. On learning this, and that it doesn't in any way changes his daughter's death sentence, Booth's boss thanks them for the information, informs them that the FBI isn't his personal police force, tells them to hand the information to the appropriate agency, and walks back into his daughter's hospital room, fighting off Manly Tears.
- Jeff Winger comes to this conclusion in the season 4 premiere of Community after deciding to turn over a new leaf and abandon his self-serving ways.
- Shinji Kido in Kamen Rider Ryuki tries his damndest to stop the other participants of the Rider War from killing one another. It does horrors for his emotional well-being. Towards the finale, he even decides to outright participate in the Rider War. Then, he dies.
- This has become the theme of the Game of Thrones. Many of the characters that try to do the right thing, end up suffering for it in the end. While the characters whom plot and scheme against others, typically get their way.
- In episode 1836 of Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleupagus enters the New York Marathon, which only Big Bird is aware of, due to the adults not yet believing in his existence. Eventually, Big Bird waits for Snuffy, who comes in last, long after the race ended, while Gordon and Susan agree to wait in their car, falling asleep by the time Snuffy shows up. Big Bird wants to wake them up so they can see Snuffy, but Snuffy tells Big Bird not to, since it's not nice to wake people up. Big Bird remarks, "it's not easy being good. Sometimes I wish I was a grouch."
- Earl Hickey on My Name Is Earl. Making up for mistakes is not easy. Sometimes people are too angry with him for his former misdeeds to accept his efforts to make up to him, or are just plain selfish. Sometimes making up for list items (or even helping people not on the list!) costs every dime he has. Although he always gets the money back eventually. Sometimes (OK, most of the time) Randy doesn't understand what he's doing or why and/or screws up Earl's mission. Sometimes Earl doesn't know how to make things right, especially since the problem is usually a lot more complicated than it's written on the list.
- This comes up frequently in the short lived early 00s sitcom Do Over, in which 30-something Joel Larson is given the chance to relive his adolescence. He takes the opportunity to fix the mistakes he made in the past, but also runs into the temptation to use his knowledge of the future for profit or glory, such as taking credit for Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", which he always ends up resisting.
- In The Flash (2014), Barry Allen feels duty bound to use his super speed to save as many lives as possible. Captain Cold exploits this in order to ensure his escape. It also complicates his personal life by making him seem aloof and unreliable.
- In Friends, Monica is about to get back together with Richard because she thinks Chandler will never commit to their relationship. However, Chandler is in fact about to propose to Monica, and when he tells Richard that, Richard agrees to step aside but invokes this trope while doing so.
Chandler: (relieved) "You really are a good guy."Richard: "I know. I hate that."
- Older Than Feudalism: The Bible in general describes the path of righteousness as a narrow and perilous road, compared to the wide and easy path of sin.
- New World of Darkness is Scylla and Charybdis in RPG form. You can either be good and stick to your principles, which will likely get you killed or hurt badly (and there's no guarantee you can Earn Your Happy Ending in this Crapsack World), or, you can be a Jerk Ass who amasses power and lives longer at the cost of a laundry list of minor and medium sins... which usually ends with you either dead at the hands of a monster, or becoming one to stop it from killing you (or to stop the previously mentioned good guys from killing you).
- Promethean: The Created is a aversion. Sure, there are even more obstacles in your way than any other supernatural. For one, every living thing hates you by instinct, but you can Earn Your Happy Ending - humanity, freedom from the pain of Promethean life and acceptance by Nature. There are rules for getting a happy ending. Just stick very, very tightly to being good.
- Changeling: The Lost has Clarity as its Morality meter; at the very bottom of this meter are things like kidnapping, because acting more like the True Fae that abducted you makes you more like them. This still applies if kidnapping someone because you can't explain why you need to get them out of their situation immediately since it doesn't make logical sense. Stealing a baby gets you that same degeneration roll, even if you're doing it because the Wild Hunt just burst out of the garden archway of a daycare playground.
- Applies this to renegade Abyssals, who can't settle down or huge bursts of necrotic Essence will kill everyone in the area; they can't directly oppose their former patrons or they'll take enough lethal damage to cripple them or knock them unconscious; and people tend to be even more afraid of them than the normal Solars, because of the whole "sometimes looking like a skeleton and bleeding from the forehead for a caste mark" thing.
- Fortunately, new rules have been provided which allows an Abyssal's Lunar Exalted Mate to ease their burden through The Power of Love (or friendship, if that's how they roll). An Abyssal can freely commit "sins of Life" with their Lunar Mate (protecting their lives or having sex with them, for example), and the Neverborn are incapable of punishing them for it. If the Abyssal actually cares for their Lunar, they can even freely commit "sins against Death" for them with impunity — which includes directly opposing their former patrons. This same update also included guidelines for how Abyssal Exalted can redeem themselves into free, untainted Solar Exalted, a process which Lunar Mates make much easier.
- Same thing applies to the Green Sun Princes. If they decide to go against the will of their Yozi patrons (which is usually "Make Creation such a shithole that it can technically count as Hell, which means we can get out of our prison"), they begin to accrue Torment that leaks out and affects others. In fact, the only way to bleed off Torment is to perform cliched acts of utter bastardry, however, it says nothing about who you have to perform them on...
- Unlike Abyssals, Green Sun Princes cannot be redeemed into normal Solars during life but the same difference means that if their essence was somehow delivered to Autochthon, the Unconquered Sun, or a similar entity after death, it could be purified in this manner.
- This is also a game mechanic for Infernal and Abyssal Charms. The former were specifically designed to avert Bad Powers, Bad People by not being particularly malevolent in practice. You can use Infernal Charms to feed the hungry, force corrupt gods to do their damn jobs, protect your loved ones, bestow regeneration on loyal agents and turn into a benevolent counterpart to a hostile Exalt, while most Abyssal Charms boil down to "hurt people" and "be like the dead". GSP's who are serious about breaking out can kick the snot out of this model around Essence 6. There's an entire keyword, Heretical, for Charms that revolve around flipping their patrons the bird, and one such Charm allows them to tell the will of the Yozis to go screw.
- Applies this to renegade Abyssals, who can't settle down or huge bursts of necrotic Essence will kill everyone in the area; they can't directly oppose their former patrons or they'll take enough lethal damage to cripple them or knock them unconscious; and people tend to be even more afraid of them than the normal Solars, because of the whole "sometimes looking like a skeleton and bleeding from the forehead for a caste mark" thing.
- Deadlands: Later settings, including Hell on Earth, went so far as to codify how much Being Good Sucks for most of its Arcane Backgrounds. Templars, for instance, lie to almost everyone they see about who they are and blithely pass judgement on everyone they meet. Muggles that aren't "good enough" are left to their own devices or even hunted, but, as ultimately heroic souls, they all know that the "hardest thing you'll ever have to do is walk away."
- Ravenloft is a world purposely designed to make sure evil always flourishes and good never triumphs. The entire world is ruled by the dark powers that put psychotic overlords in charge of each land. Even if you kill them, someone else will likely take their place. However, this is also a setting where being evil isn't much better, since the Dark Powers enjoy tormenting the aforementioned overlords even more than they enjoy tormenting the good guys.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Paladins of first through third-edition generally suffer some degree of this trope: the frequency and intensity depend on how strictly your game group judges actions on the alignment spectrum. Sure, the benefits of the class are pretty sweet, but you Can't Get Away with Nuthin', and the rest of your group - even though you're not required to enforce Lawful Good beliefs on them - are going to have difficulty pursuing any evil, or even chaotic, goals.
- Les Misérables: Valjean tries to feed his sister's starving child and gets 19 years of incarceration. At several points he faces a choice between helping someone or avoiding trouble for himself.
- Fate/stay night: Kotomine feels this way. The prequel goes in depth into the reasons why as he desperately searches for something that he likes to do that isn't evil. Failing that, he looks for someone who was at least empty like he was, which is why Shirou interested him so much. In any case, he had to sacrifice his happiness, ambitions and act good when he really wanted to act evil but was in denial about it. He's still very honest, and he feels guilt! This causes other problems.
- Fable III invokes this during the game's second half, once you're a monarch. Being a benevolent ruler will make you loved by the people but will leave your treasury dry, which hurts your chances of funding an army to fight off an impending Eldritch Abomination. As such, you'll be required to keep your coffers full with your personal funds in order to Earn Your Happy Ending.
- Final Fantasy Tactics - Ramza's a Wide-Eyed Idealist in a Crapsack World. Even after it's made very clear that he's going to spend the rest of his life (if not the rest of history) branded as a heretic, he remains determined to Do The Right Thing.
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Marche knows that by getting his friends to come home to the real world means destroying their happinesses and he will be hated for it, but he does it anyway because it's ultimately the right thing to do for his friends' well being.
- Fallout: New Vegas:
- The Followers of the Apocalypse have an ethos of providing medicine, food and education to anyone who needs it. In the post-apocalyptic Fallout-verse, this results in them being understaffed and forever running out of supplies.
- Companions Arcade Gannon and Veronica Santangelo, both idealists in their own way will not end up with satisfying endings. Arcade will see that an Independent New Vegas isn't as perfect as he wants it to be but does what he can to help others while other paths have him be disillusioned or wind up dead, either due to his Enclave heritage or due to being enslaved by the Legion. Veronica will either stay with the Brotherhood of Steel despite knowing that their current path will lead them to ruin or be forever traumatized by their zealotry after leaving to join the Followers. J.E. Sawyers states that one of the themes of the game is that in a world as harsh as the Fallout setting, the idealist is the one to be hurt the most.
- This applies to the Honest Hearts DLC with New Canaanite Missionary Daniel. If he succeeds in evacuating the Sorrows as he wanted, he'll forever question himself on whether or not he did the right thing. If they instead choose to stay and fight the White Legs, he'll be forever haunted by their loss of innocence.
- Mass Effect
- No matter how nice Paragon Shepard is and how many good things s/he does at his/her own personal risk, s/he still gets reprimanded and screwed over by the politicians of the Citadel Council and Ambassador Udina around every corner. No matter how strict of a Paragon you are, you still have to choose between letting the Council die, or allowing the human Alliance fleet to suffer heavy casualties. There is no Third Option, and no "reward choice" for being a good guy.
- In ME2 and especially ME3, it gets really bad, and there are conversation options that indicate Shepard is feeling this trope quite heavily.
- On the plus side, there are some aversions to this - if you take the moral high road, Shepard can use this fact to shame the hell out of the people who call him/her on lesser sins.
- This is a huge part of the backstory of Touhou's Byakuren, at least from her perspective. Attempting to achieve piece and equality between humans and youkai? Enjoy your millennium in Makai, traitor. It may be worth mentioning here however that the racism is an important part of the status quo in Touhou.
- Being the team's healer in a multiplayer or a MMORPG can often invoke this. You will have a lot of responsibilty in keeping your teammates in living condition and you'll often get the blame if something goes wrong, even if it isn't your fault. This is know as the Blame the Healer mentality. Besides that, you will often become the Nr. 1 on many enemy players hit list.
- Shadowrun Returns delves into this, though to what degree depends on the game. Universally, Evil Pays Better in most cases, so trying to make morally "good" choices tends to leave you considerably less wealthy than you otherwise would be. Dragonfall takes this a step further by making nearly every "good" choice be you betraying, failing or otherwise inconveniencing your contractor, causing your reputation to take a hit and subsequently deny you access better quests and items.
- Undertale subverts this with its Pacifist Route. You're stuck at level 1 for the game if you don't kill anything (justified in-game by explaining that Undertale's version of experience and levels are actually measures of how much of a cold, murderous bastard you are) and even random encounters become Puzzle Bosses where you have to find a way to de-escalate the situation and spare the enemy instead of killing them (all while they're trying to kill you). Even Flowey wonders how long you'll last before you give in to violence. However, all that hard work and perseverance ultimately rewards you with the best ending in the game.
- In The Order of the Stick:
- Discussed when Roy Greenhilt dies and is interviewed for admittance to the Lawful Good afterlife. He passes because even though he isn't always a moral paragon, he always tries, rather than accepting an "easier" alignment that would require less work. This means he gets to go to Heaven while his jerkass father is stuck outside the gates.
- In the Start of Darkness prequel, then-Enfant Terrible Necromancer Xykon invokes this to a Professor X expy as a reason he's turning towards evil: why should Xykon fight to protect a world that hates and fears him? The real reason is because he's a dick.
- Magick Chicks: After being transferred to Artemis Academy, forces conspire to try to reform Melissa - from having strange dreams about a mysterious little girl, to ending up with a magic wand that seems to act as her conscience... whether Mel wants it, or not. But she's determined to fight their influence as the realization that she's begun to change literally sent her running!
- It's even invoked in the comic's tagline: "Being good never felt SO BAD!!"
- In Phoenix Flair, being a Magical Girl / Avazon is a miserable, grueling experience, with no rewards and many, many injuries... at least, according to the Protagonist.
- At the beginning of the Sam & Fuzzy NMS revived arc (when Devahi starts working for them), Sam and Fuzzy are dispatched to take care of a problem that involves megalomaniacal gerbils and some really sinister wine. When, at the end of the job, Sam tries to take the wine with him, the owner of the restaurant who hired him stops him, because even though it's opened, and partially drunk, and incredibly dangerous, it's still gotta be worth at least as much as he's paying Sam to save his sorry hide. Sam walks out, with the wine but sans pay, commenting that doing the right thing sucks. Sam always tries to do the right thing, and it always sucks for him.
- Big Ears from Goblins: puts it best.
Big Ears: "Imagine the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Now imagine that it's not just happening to you, but to everybody you care about. That's what evil feels like."Chief: "Blaah! That sounds unbearable, why would anyone want to become a Paladin?"Big Ears: "So others don't have to."
- James the Token Good Teammate of Roommates sacrifices, protects, let's his beloveds go if necessary, is humble, prone to self-depracate etc. and seems to be as close to an Ideal Hero as it is possible in the setting... but he will never get the recognition or a happy ending because this is a Meta Fic so for good to have any real reward you need to be The Hero and he isn't. He is determined to be good despite this and Earn His Happy Ending... or at least occasionally drink until he forgets.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. after setting Appa free from captivity to help Aang, symbolically ending his quest to capture the Avatar. Long before that, his inherently good nature also resulted in his father burning off a quarter of his face and banishing him until he completes what, at the time, was considered an incompleteable task.
- Just like in the comics, The titular character from The Spectacular Spider Man still suffers from this grief.
- The Justice League quote above comes from a scene in which Superman compares himself to his Knight Templar Evil Counterpart from another dimension, and he won't reduce Lex Luthor to a splatter across the nearest building for the loss of The Flash. Since the League rescued Flash immediately after that, he could take pride in retrospect at showing how strong he really is, deep down.
- In the Kim Possible episode "Bad Boy", Drakken is depressed when he figures out that becoming evil again for the greater good will mean no more playtime with Rufus.
- Kronk's New Groove has Kronk, the Minion with an F in Evil. Despite how much he feared his father for not being successful, he gave up a good home, and a girlfriend so that his friends would not be harmed or have bad lives due to his desires. Subverted as he gets a thumbs up from his pop and his girlfriend back.
- Animaniacs: The amount of abuse Buttons the Dog gets while protecting little girl Mindy not to mention the thanklessness and misunderstanding of the dog's owners, who Once per Episode think the dog is disobeying their orders, is only rewarded at the end by Mindy patting the bruised and battered canine on the head and saying, "Silly puppy!"
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Shane Gooseman was already questioning his purpose as a Tyke Bomb and unwilling to accept unnecessary casualties during Super Soldier training. Because he decided to stay loyal to his creators during the riot, he is considered a traitor by his brethren and was forced to accept a deal where he became a Hunter of His Own Kind. As Killbane aptly pointed out, he's considered a slave, neither human or Supertrooper.
- In one episode, Doug finds an envelope with a large amount of money and decides to turn it in at the local police station. His friends and his sister Judy give him a fair amount of flack for it until the thirty-day waiting period is up; since no one has claimed the money, it is now legally his. Just as he's adding it up, a Coincidental Broadcast airs about a little old lady who is missing the exact same amount of money. Reluctantly, he returns the money to her, whereupon she rewards his honesty with a pack of spearmint gum. At least Judy takes him out for a milkshake as a sign of implicit approval of his honesty.
- The title character of is usually too cynical and lazy to try doing something good, but when she does, she usually runs into this trope, with her efforts proving ineffective ("The New Kid") or only partially effective ("Fizz Ed," "See Jane Run").
- Quinn runs into this in the Grand Finale: she confronts her friend about her alcoholism, but this creates a rift in their relationship without having any apparent effects on her drinking.
- Goof Troop: PJ lives his entire adolescence with this trope as its message. At best, he gets someone to console him, fix things for him, or make up with him after they or someone else maliciously or carelessly hurt his feelings or made things difficult for him. Most of the time he has to seek a resolution himself and sometimes has to resort to passive-aggression or violence in order to achieve the right results. Otherwise, his somewhat selfish friend and extremely selfish father always have the upper hand over him, meaning that he spends most of his time doing other characters' bidding. He's not only treated as an Extreme Doormat, but also a (sympathetic) No Respect Guy and The Drag-Along, and has been actively slandered by a talking hat before. He eventually get a happy ending in the second movie.
- Gargoyles: Goliath's Clan constantly put human lives above their own. Their reward is being called monsters, having objects thrown at them and sometimes an organization with full military troops seeking to either kill them or capture and dissect them. On the other hand, they have a fanclub and the humans that know them, such as Elsa and Xanatos think otherwise.
- South Park: Kyle always tries to do the right thing, even if it doesn't get him rewarded or gain happiness. It becomes more apparent when Cartman, a sociopath at the age of 10, is involved because despite Kyle hating him with all his heart, he could never let Cartman suffer from his own stupid actions and wants to at least see him do the right thing once in his life.
- The titular character of WordGirl finds a hard time in having fun due to her crime fighting.
- ThunderCats (2011): Lion-O was looked down upon by both his own people and others for showing mercy to the other races of Third Earth, and when he tries to do the right thing, it's often at the expense of either his own safety or happiness. At the very least, Lion-O's actions are shown to have positive effects in the long run despite the hardships.
- In the season 2 premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Discord gives Breaking Speeches to each of the Mane Six about how much friendship either sucks and how it's better off to be selfish in the end, right before inverting their personalities to be contrary to their normal selves.
- Steven Universe: Played with in Keystone Motel. When Garnet defuses due to Ruby and Sapphire disagreeing on how to deal with Pearl tricking them into fusing, Sapphire says they need to forgive Pearl for the good of the group while Ruby is frustrated that they always have to be 'the bigger Gem'.
- After Peridot cements her Heel–Face Turn, she spends the next couple of hours descending into madness born of fear and confusion.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Earl Cooper was a car engineer for Global Motors. He reported a design flaw in one of their cars to the board of directors. However, they refused to remove the product from the market on their lawyers' advice. Earl was determined to talk to the authorities as lives were at stake. The executives sent a bunch of thugs to silence him, but thankfully Batman saved him. Earl's testimony then rocked Global Motors in a massive scandal. Years later, Earl found himself out of job because he got a reputation as a whistleblower.
- The Paradoxical Commandments outright state that every attempt to be a good person will be met with failure and resistance, and that this should in no way stop you from doing good. Doing good, even though it's hard at times, adds to your virtue.
- Oskar Schindler, due to his way with people, managed to shelter over 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by claiming they were "essential workers" at his enamel factory. He saved all of them from suffering and death. Unfortunately this bankrupted him, and he lived on charity from the people he saved.
- Applies to witnesses to crimes who want to testify, but fear retribution by the criminals or their associates. You could go into witness protection, only to lose everything you have to live a completely different life.
- Two girls were suspended and faced expulsion when one had what looked like an asthma attack and the other shared her inhaler.
- Anytime anyone sacrifices their own life to save another. Sure, dying so that others may live is perhaps one of the most selfless things that anyone can do, but you still have to die.
- It's a well-known (and sad) fact that kids who are bullied at school often get in trouble for retaliating in self-defense. Now, go ask somebody who has tried to interfere and protect a victim from being bullied. Chances are they got in trouble along with the victim. It's also not unheard of for kids who try to defend a victim from their bullies, only to become the next target.
- Many victims dealing with spousal/parental abuse who retaliate against said abuser (especially physically in self-defense) will often find themselves facing the charges, while the abuser ends up the one interpreted as the victim by the authorities.
- This high school student was unable to graduate because he missed 16 days of school. Those days were spent caring for his cancer-stricken mother. Fortunately, the decision was reversed.
- Being a Whistle Blower at your job. You will be thanked and given a small reward, but good luck ever finding another job. A person can also face criminal charges depending on which company or organization they blew the whistle on.
- One of the few reasons why sexual harassment at the workplace usually goes unchallenged. Sometimes, if the person who is doing the harassing is a vital employee to the company whereas the victim is just some new guy/girl or desperate for their job, it's not too unheard of for the company to just fire the person complaining about the harassment.
- If you're an altruistic person you'd better avert Stupid Good behaviour, otherwise, you might get exploited for all you're worth by freeloaders.