Sometimes stated as "you get what you wish for, and what you didn't wish for, too."
Our main character has a strenuous task he's pursuing. It can be personal, romantic, career-related... no matter what it is, it's really difficult to achieve. His goal may even be unattainable or the things he'll have to do in pursuit of it could be dangerous to him or those he cares for. He might even concede, in his less-obsessed moments, that he doesn't really need it that badly.
Then one day the character realizes that the pursuit of the goal is doing him more harm than good. He makes the deliberate and hard choice to walk away, accepting that having his prize wouldn't really make him happy and he should be content with what he ha—
What's this? Laser-Guided Karma agrees? And has seen fit to bestow similar or more rewarding gifts upon the protagonist anyway? That's just wonderful! You can eat your cake and have it too! Talk about earning your happy ending!
When executed well, this Aesop can be an effective warning against the overindulgence characterized by Greed, Gluttony, Lust or other deadly sins: The reason you may feel unfulfilled is because you don't know how to appreciate or be thankful for the people and things that were there for you all along, if you only took the time to look.
When executed poorly, it's very, very broken: Hard Work Hardly Works, so don't bother pursuing what you want — the universe will provide only when you prove that you don't really need it.
It's also closely related to Cursed with Awesome; a character suffering under a burden that both tortures and empowers him realizes that he can simply choose to stop being bothered by it, leaving him with nothing but pure Awesome. Example: a man is cursed to live forever, and after watching his Love Interest and True Companions die, asks Who Wants to Live Forever? But as time passes, he finds new love, new friends, and meets numerous good people who remain good even in A World Half Full. Suddenly, Living Forever Is Awesome!
Supertrope to Everything but the Girl: If the protagonist rejects the boon, regrets it, and tries but fails to gain it back, it's Off the Table. When the character chooses not to pursue the original prize because it would require doing something morally wrong, and the prize is then granted specifically because of that decision, it's a Secret Test of Character. Compare All That Glitters, where the actual prize is worthless but the protagonist nevertheless comes away with some intangible reward for all his effort.
Not to be confused with the webcomic of the same name.
Contrast with Sour Grapes Tropes.
As this is a Twist Ending trope, unmarked spoilers below.
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Anime & Manga
To Be a Master shows frequently have this. This often plays out with a competitor who believes that winning is more important than anything else, while our considerably more casual protagonist tries to show him the error of his mentality. Usually by beating him in competition, thus resulting in the protagonist becoming the grand champion after all. It says something about the broken nature of this when protagonists who don't go on to win the overall competition (for example, Ash Ketchum) are written off by fans as Failure Heroes. They seem to forget that he did win the Orange Islands League. The trouble is that he hasn't won anything since.
Girls und Panzer has an interesting take on this implementation of the trope. The protagonist, Miho, who doesn't think winning is everything, has to win, lest her school shut down, resulting in her and her friends being separated, something she finds out when she's prepared to surrender to prevent people from getting hurt. Her older sister Maho, who follows their family's ideology of winning at all costs, does so in order to allow Miho the freedom to live and practice tankery the way she wants, and gladly accepts defeat against Miho, especially now that she's found a way of tankery that she can call her own.
In Muhyo And Roji, during the decision on whether to choose Muhyo or Enchu for the post of Executor, the committee found some factors that made Enchu, who was desperate for the position when Muhyo was apathetic, less suited to the position, especially his preoccupation with his sick mother (whom he had hoped to support with his job, and who died as part of Teeki's plan to corrupt him shortly before the decision). According to Page, thing Enchu lacked that Muhyo had was "thinking of others,"; Muhyo had said if he was appointed, he would give the position to Enchu.
In the anime version of Bokurano, Kirie, the first to pilot after the realization that the loser's universe is destroyed, enters his battle unwilling to fight because that revelation, combined with some of his personal issues regarding his family, makes him wonder whether the world deserves to continue existing at the cost of another's existence. At that moment, his opponent commits suicide, and surprisingly enough, he lives through the fight because he didn't move Zearth. He regains his resolve in time to pilot again, defeat his enemy and die like everyone else.
This comes up fairly early on in Saki. In Saki's first few matches with Nodoka, she ends up with the same score she started with, which, despite indicating Saki getting in second or third place out of four, shows that Saki has almost superhuman skill and luck at mahjong- Saki adopted this tactic because her parents would punish her if she won or lost family mahjong games, causing her to dislike the game itself. Nodoka, who has played in mahjong tournaments, and is trying to get her father to allow her to stay in her current school by winning the national tournament, is infuriated with Saki's attitude toward winning, and being effectively defeated by her in spite of that. However, Nodoka starts to warm up to Saki after Saki drops that playstyle, and reveals that she hopes to see her estranged older sister again in the national tournament and reconcile with her, so the trope stops being in play after a few chapters.
The Nut-Brown Maid, her lover tells her that he's been outlawed and outlines his perilous life ahead; she persists in saying that she will go with him, "For, in my mind, of all mankind/I love but you alone."; finally, he reveals that he made it up and is, in fact, an earl's son.
In a way, Batman is actually this. Batman can never get back his parents and his war on crime is a way of expressing his rage. Ironically, however, it provides him a substitute family that eventually grew to be the largest in the DCU including two boys and a daughter. Plus surrogate father figure Alfred. So, Batman's decision to love in spite of his crusade rewards him with the family he lost.
Beauty & the Beast is perhaps the most well-known example of this ending. Its message is supposed to be that True Beauty Is on the Inside with the Beauty learning how to look past the Beast's monstrous exterior to see and appreciate his true heart, but that conclusion turns out to be precisely what's needed for the Beast to revert to...a handsome prince! Now she can love the inside and the outside! Some versions, like the Disney film, mitigate this by implying that the restoration of the Beast's human form was more his reward than hers as he needed to change himself from "ugly inside" to "beautiful inside" before the Beauty could begin to love him, but other versions don't and even describe the prince as the handsomest man Beauty has ever seen or even the handsomest one in the world which raises Unfortunate Implications of how he couldn't just become human but had to become a beautiful-beyond-belief human to be a proper husband/reward for Beauty.
The Honest Axe is built on this. The honest protagonist only asks for his own axe back, and gets the gold and silver axes as a reward for his honesty.
A minor one in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. When Ron is about to apologize, Harry realizes he doesn't need to hear the apology. Just knowing Ron was going to make it was enough, and forgiving him before he could apologize will repair the friendship that much faster.
This happens in the Artemis Fowl fanfic series Artemis Fowl: The Aztec Incident and its sequel Artemis Fowl: The Sword of God. In The Aztec Incident, Artemis loses his genius, becoming merely very intelligent. A big plot point of The Sword Of God is Artemis's struggles to accept the loss of his genius. After accidentally altering history so that he never met the People, meaning that he never lost his genius but did lose everyone he loves and ended up leading a miserable and empty life as a result, Artemis learns that he doesn't need to be a genius as long as he has his friends and family; he doesn't stop missing his genius, but learns to accept that it's gone and isn't coming back. Then after history is restored to normal, Artemis's friends and family find a way to restore his genius anyway, letting him have it all.
In the Evangelion fic The Second Try Asuke and Shinji become Peggy Sues but are initially on the verge of just letting the world die because coming back in time meant losing their daughter. They manage to overcome their sorrow and work hard to avert Third Impact even knowing they'll never be able to see Aki again only to be reunited with her following the final battle.
Film - Animated
The Princess and the Frog: Dr. Facilier offers Tiana the restaurant she's always dreamed off, in exchange for his voodoo talisman. She almost gives in, but realizes that those she loves are even more important than her dreams, so she smashes the talisman. After Charlotte's kiss fails, she and Naveen decide to marry anyway. However, since she has just married a prince, Tiana becomes a princess, and their kiss breaks the spell. Then, with a little "aggressive persuasion" from Louis, Tiana is able to buy her restaurant, and she and Naveen deck out the place in splendid fasion.
Kung Fu Panda has a inversion; Master Shifu administers a kung fu test during a meal where he challenges the glutton Po to steal the last steamed bun from him. When Po finally manages to get the bun, he shrugs and tosses it back. "I'm not hungry." This is the best outcome because not only has his kung fu skill advanced but he has conquered his tendency to gorge when he is upset.
SpongeBob: Wait a second, everybody. There's something I need to say first... I just don't know how to put it.
Squidward: I think I know what it is. After going on your life-changing journey, you now realize you don't want what you thought you wanted. What you really wanted was inside you all along.
SpongeBob: *grabs manager badge from Squidward* Are you crazy!? I was just gonna tell you that your fly is down!
Shrek subverts the Beauty & the Beast example. Fiona becoming an Ogre and taking up Shrek's "bad" habits when they hook up is widely considered a direct answer to the ending of "Beauty and the Beast."
Film - Live-Action
American Pie The film centers around a group of friends who make a pact to lose their virginities by their prom night. Once their prom night rolls around, they decide that it was a dumb thing to do, since sex shouldn't be a goal in itself, but something you do with a person who's important to you and when you both want it. Then after learning this good lesson, they lose their virginities.
Midnight Run qualifies. When bounty-hunter Robert DeNiro decides to forgo the reward for transporting Charles Grodin cross-country, and lets him go, Grodin takes off a money belt with over $200,000 and hands it to DeNiro. DeNiro's character, having refused to accept bribes (including those offered by Grodin's character previously) and stubbornly held to his code of honor throughout the movie, initially refuses to accept it; Grodin's character has to persuade him that it's not a bribe, but a 'thank you' gift: "You already let me go." As such, while it still qualifies, it's a less glaring example since it comes across more as a genuine reward for DeNiro's honorable actions throughout the movie rather than Laser-Guided Karma making sure he has his cake and eats it too.
In the movie Penelope, the teenaged girl mentioned is cursed with a pig's nose because she needs 'one of her own' to love her. After trying and failing to get a suitable suitor, she learns to accept herself as she is. This causes the curse to break. And, some time later, she meets and starts a romantic relationship with a man she had fallen in love with (and who loved her but feared he could not break her curse).
The MuppetsWizard of Oz: Dorothy asks the wizard to make her a famous singer, not to help her get home. She then decides that she really does want to go home, and Glinda sends her back to Kansas, where she says she's happy working at her uncle and aunt's diner. Then the Muppets show up and say they've heard her demo tape and want her to appear on the show.
Later, The Muppets did this again - their attempt to save their theater and their name from the evil oil tycoon, Tex Richman, fails horribly as it turns out they didn't even come close to raising enough money. Kermit instead declares that it doesn't matter that they failed since they did their best and they'll move forward as a family regardless. They exit the theater to people applauding them for their efforts, seemingly averting this trope. Cue the end credits, when Gonzo accidentally beans Tex Richman in the head with a bowling ball. Thanks to the head injury, he gives them the theater and the name anyway, thus playing the trope perfectly straight in the end.
National Treasure: Ben Gates decides that the treasure is too big for one man and donates to world museums (never mind that it was the only way to escape a double fistful of federal felonies). But it's OK. The Government allowed the heroes to keep enough money to make them fabulously wealthy anyway.
It was never about the money, it was about discovering the treasure and proving that his family wasn't crazy.
Thoroughly Modern Millie does the classic love vs. money version of this: the woman has to choose between the rich jerk and the nice but humble guy, and goes with the latter. It turns out that the nice guy is rich anyway.
This is foreshadowed in a scene where Muzzy tells Millie about how she met her own incredibly rich husband. According to Muzzy, she had no idea he was fabulously rich until he gave her jewelry with what she first thought were green glass beads, but discovered to really be emeralds. She figured he stole the jewelry and begged him to return it, because she didn't care if he gave her expensive gifts, she just wanted him to be honest. She concluded the story by telling Millie (who made no secret of her Gold Digger plans) that while emeralds are nice, folks can get by just fine on green glass.
How to Marry a Millionaire did it first, although the main character Schatze's choice isn't between a rich jerk and a humble sweetheart (they're both very sweet fellows) but between a millionaire decades older than Schatze, for whom she can only bring herself to feel platonic affection, and an (secretly far richer) everyman who is the same age as her and has completely swept her off her feet. She, too, chooses the latter
What a Girl Wants Daphne finally realizes that her presence in England is causing both her and her father more harm than good, and returns home to America. What does Dad do? Drop everything in his life, including a Parliament seat he's been chasing for years, and run to America to be with her and her mother.
The Shawshank Redemption: A pretty solid example of this is when Red is going for his parole hearing. The first time he is denied when he puts on a good show and talks about how he's been rehabilitated and has served his penance, sounding like a typical inmate and he is summarily rejected. When his turn comes back around years later, and after Andy escapes he then talks down to the parole committee, describing them as a bunch of young, college educated suits using made up words to describe washed up old cons and saying he doesn't give a crap, sounding instead like the wizened old man that he was...they set him free.
Red: "I know what you think [rehabilitated] means, sonny. To me, it's just a made up word, a politician's word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did?... There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him — tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."
Cleveland (as Red): "Rehabilitated? It's just a stupid, made-up word, so boys like you can sit behind a desk, wear a fancy suit, and feel important. You're a jerk, and I had sex with your mother last night. And I swear to God, you let me outta here, first thing I'm gonna do is kill again!"
Pretty much any sporting or competition-based movie for kids in which the underdog protagonists learn that winning isn't everything and that it's good enough that they got out there and had fun...and then end up winning anyway. Sometimes there are aversions such as Cars and School of Rock, but they're rather rare.
Spider-Man 2 reflects this, as the eponymous hero's difficulties do not decrease until he accepts that he may never get anything he wants. After that point, he regains his powers, defeats the bad guy, gets the girl, and (as seen in the third film) takes his place at the head of the class.
The hammer Mjölnir is taken from Thor after he brashly starts an unnecessary battle, and can only be carried by one who is "worthy". Later, Thor's friends deal with an attacking giant controlled by Loki, but when it clearly becomes hopeless, he counsels a Tactical Withdrawal then then tells the giant it can kill him, which it nearly does. This Heroic Sacrifice show Thor to be less vainglorious and warlike, so Mjölnir returns to him — and he immediately uses it to kick the giant's butt.
Subverted in this joke: An old man finds a lamp and rubs it. A genie appears, and asks the man if he wants riches, power or wisdom. The man thinks long and hard (money can't buy happiness, power comes and goes) and decides he wants wisdom. The genie grants his wish, and the man's next sentence, realizing he's still poor and powerless, is "Damn I'm stupid!"
Around the World in Eighty Days: It appears that Phileas Fogg has lost his bet to do what the title says and his fortune with it but is compensated by his having learned to appreciate life rather than continue the sterile, emotionless existence he was leading before. Then it turns out he'd forgotten about gaining an extra day by crossing the International Date Line, and still has time to win the bet.
In the Forgotten Realms novel Faces of Deception by Troy Denning, the protagonist, Atreus, has been staggeringly ugly since childhood as a result of a spell Gone Horribly Wrong. All he wants is to become handsome so that he can have a normal life. Others point out to him that he should first learn to appreciate inner beauty, but since people tend to run screaming at the sight of him he's a fairly cynical about that idea. Finally he finds a "perfect" land where people don't see even him as ugly and where he finally finds love - but he can't stay there permanently. The very fact that it would be such an obvious thing for this trope to happen by the end makes it a subversion when it doesn't. Atreus throws everything away and tries to steal a source of the sacred valley's power to heal his appearance, and the story ends with his neither having stopped wanting better looks nor having achieved them.
In the Canterbury Tales, the "Wife of Bath's" tale is of the Loathly Lady variety. A knight promises marriage to a woman to whom he owes his life. It turns out she is quite ugly. But, when in his tent at night, she turns into a stunning woman. She then says she can either be beautiful at night and faithful, or beautiful during the day and not faithful. When he lets her choose, she can become beautiful by day and night, yet remains faithful to him.
Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester when she learns of his insane wife he keeps in the attic because being with him would violate her morals and sense of self-worth. "Thankfully," Bertha dies in a fire and Rochester is blinded and maimed in the same fire so they can marry and live as equals.
Left Behind: Two of the main protagonists are offered jobs by the Antichrist, jobs that, were they offered by anyone else would seem like dream jobs. The characters are reluctant to take those jobs, rightly seeing them as tests of temptation before them. After some initial reluctance, they take the jobs anyway, as they feel that taking them was "God's will."
Little Women: Towards the end of the story, newlyweds Laurie and Amy discuss the implications of her marrying the wealthy Laurie for love after previously coming to her senses and resolving not to marry Fred Vaughn for his money.
Magic Shop: Jennifer Murdley's Toad, a children's lit novel by Bruce Coville about an insecure and ugly little girl who adopts a talking frog sought out by a shallow, beauty-obsessed temptress, consciously averts the trope. In early versions of the story, Jennifer became beautiful, but Coville realized that such a transformation broke the Aesop and instead went with an ending in which Jennifer just accepts herself for who she is.
In Adventures of Dunno (Neznayka), a Russian children's story, the eponymous character learns that if you commit three selfless good deeds in a row, a wizard will appear and offer you a magic wand. He accomplishes a number of good deeds, but to no effect, because by thinking about the wand while performing the actions, he renders the otherwise-selfless actions selfish. Only after he has become disenchanted with the whole idea and completely forgotten about the magic wand does he complete the task and summon the wizard.
In Summer Of The Monkeys, the young protagonist finally wins the money he spent the whole book trying to obtain, because he wanted to buy a horse. However, his sister needs an operation, so he does the right thing—and ends up getting the horse, too. The movie version (a very loose adaptation) seems to have deliberately avoided the trope, wanting to create more of a Bittersweet Ending.
In The Count of Monte Cristo the Count, after getting his revenge and expecting to just walk away, lonely and alone, gets Hadee who loves him dearly.
Many of the Xanth books have the heroes go on a life-changing journey across Xanth in order to accomplish some goal or obtain something they think they need, but when they finally get there, they don't want it any longer, because the life-changing journey changed their life and priorities. On the other hand, the same journey has enriched their life, broadened their horizons, and (extremely often) helped them to fall in love with one of their stalwart companions. Other times, the trope plays a little straighter. In the course of their journey, their original goal is set aside in light of a greater mission they must undertake. Upon completing the mission, they usually have to be reminded about their original goal...and find it has either been rewarded to them or they achieved it during their mission.
Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series has somewhat of an odd example: Mencheres' wife has recently died, he's lost his ability to see the future, and he doesn't feel his people need him anymore, so he attempts suicide to prevent an old enemy from manufacturing criminal charges that ensnare his partner. Only, in the process of trying to end his life, he meets the new love of his life, leading to him regaining his ability and turning the tables on the bad guy. As a bonus, his second wife isn't the murderous bitch his first one was.
Live Action TV
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Nick Stokes gets recommended for promotion only after he tells Grissom that he refuses to define himself by the goal of career advancement. In a later episode, however, it's revealed that Grissom only recommended him because the supposed promotion (only available to one of three CSI techs) wasn't actually going to happen, since the budget was going to prevent anybody from holding that position (they chose a new piece of equipment instead of the position), so Grissom only gave it to Stokes because he wouldn't be disappointed by the result.
Joe Millionaire, a 2000s reality show, did something similar: all the women competed to win the heart of one man, who has been showing them the time of their lives in his mansion... except it wasn't his mansion, and he was just an ordinary construction worker. Yet, when she chose to remain with him, they were compensated for appearing on the show... with a check for one million dollars. Sadly, this became more broken afterward; the two broke up shortly after the show aired. But at least they still split the money!
Another reality TV show, For Love or For Money, did something similar: the women are told firsthand that if they win the heart of one man, they'll get a check for one million dollars too. What they don't know is that if the man does pick them in the end, they have to choose between him and the million dollars because they can't have both...except that, as the man is helpfully informed of in secret, if they do pick love over money, they'll get the money anyway! And then additional twists like the final check having a very good chance of being for just one dollar instead of a million and the woman who actually chose the money over the man being invited back to compete for double the money rendered whatever moral the show was trying to aim for practically moot anyway.
The Nanny S2 Ep2, "The Playwright" had this happen to Brighton. He reluctantly agrees to go with his geeky study partner, Brooke, to the school dance, only to deny it and turn her down when she talks to him about it in front of his friends and gets lectured by Fran for it. Later on, after agreeing again to take her to the dance, she shows up and has cleaned up nicely. Fran lampshades it;
Fran: See? You did the right thing, and God smiled on you.
Star Trek: The Next Generation In the episode "Tapestry", Picard suffers a complication with his artificial heart (the complication involving a phaser shot to the chest after a peace talk went horribly awry and dies, only to find himself in an "afterlife" with Q. Picard regrets picking a fight in his youth that led to the need for an artificial heart in the first place, so Q allows him to go back to that moment in time and change things so he doesn't die. Unfortunately, as he learns in a new timeline, not having gone through that brush with death caused him to never take risks and ultimately never truly succeed in life. So Picard asks Q to change things back to the way they were before, accepting the eventually fatal consequences of the fight along with the valuable lessons that helped him lead an accomplished life. And then he wakes up in the present, once again captain, and his heart is working again. So much for the negative consequences of rash actions.
Picard himself theorizes he was never in any danger and the whole thing was an hallucination created by Q to teach Picard a lesson. Another possibility is that Q, satisfied with the lesson Picard learned, and perhaps respecting him as a friend, fixed Picard's heart. A third possibility is that Picard was not in danger of dying and that Q wanted to test him anyway.
Q does a number of things to benefit humanity that seem like dick moves, so any of the three is possible.
In an episode of Merlin the newly-crowned King Arthur finds an antagonistic king trespassing on his lands who refuses to sign a peace treaty with him. Arthur duly executes him at the urging of his Evil Uncle. The dead king's widow takes exception to this and marches on Camelot with her extensive army. Arthur talks her into pitting her champion against him, wins the fight and declares peace with the Queen, who is impressed by his conduct. So Arthur gets rid of a potentially dangerous king who was out to sieze his kingdom and declares peace with the dead guy's widow.
Happens to Wilhemina in the series finale of Ugly Betty. When her latest scheme backfires, she takes responsibility for her actions towards Tyler and protects him without asking for anything in return, revealing that she does intend to turn over a new, less evil, leaf. Daniel then resigns his post as Editor-In-Chief, leaving Wilhemina as the sole head of "Mode."
In one episode of Sesame Street, Telly wants to join the Bear Scouts (a Cub Scouts Expy). While he passes most of the tests, he still needs to perform a good deed before he can become a member. He tries several times throughout the day, but fails each time. Finally, the end of the day comes, and he still hasn't done any good deeds. Scout Master Papa Bear is extremely upset and blames himself, convinced that he's a terrible Scout Master. Telly comforts him, reassuring him that he's a great Scout Master, and that Telly can try again tomorrow. Baby Bear then points out that there's no need - by cheering up Papa Bear, Telly has done the good deed he needs to join the Bear Scouts.
On a Christmas episode of Kenan & Kel, Kenan gets a job as a department store Santa to save up and buy himself a new mountain bike. When one boy asks for a gift for his sister and nothing for himself, Kenan is so moved that he instead uses the money to buy each sibling bikes of their own. At the end, the real Santa is shown placing the bike Kenan wanted under his tree.
How I Met Your Mother: One episode has Ted and Marshall state that they have a few female (and one male) friends say that they were done with romance and try to focus on their careers, only to find that once they stopped trying they ended up immediately falling in love with great guys and ended up being Happily Married to them. This is in response to Robin having said the exact same thing right before she met Don, who she got into [[a serious relationship with. However, the man she eventually marries is someone she has already met.
Doctor Who: During "The Day of the Doctor" the War Doctor is set to use the Moment to destroy both the Time Lords and the Daleks in order to save the rest of the universe until he is sent to see how doing so changed the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. The War Doctor is at first worried by what he sees, only to realize that in the end they are still the Doctor and will still save lives. He returns to activate the Moment only for the Tenth and Eleventh to appear and help him Take a Third Option, apparently saving Gallifrey while destroying the Daleks.
Mythology and Religion
Then there's the story of the man who accompanies a dog to heaven, only to be told that he can only enter the gates if he leaves the dog behind. He refuses to abandon his companion and turns his back on heaven... and then is informed that it was a Secret Test of Character and his compassion has earned him and the dog entry to paradise.note The Twilight Zone used this plot for the episode "The Hunt". Though in The Twilight Zone, it was secretly Hell, trying to trick people, and dogs can tell the difference, which is why it refused to go. So get a dog, or you'll go to Hell!
Older Than Feudalism: The Mahabharata offered Yudhishtra the choice of entrance into Heaven or Hell. Heaven had all his mortal enemies, and Hell all his friends.
King Solomon is an interesting take on this trope. God offered him a gift of whatever he wanted, such as riches or lovers or what have you. Solomon, terrified that he's going to screw up while he's on the throne, asks God for wisdom instead. By choosing wisdom' he shows that he already possesses that quality, because with wisdom all the other offered things can be obtained, however none of the other things can impart wisdom itself. God is so impressed that he gives him all the things he didn't ask for, reasoning that a man whose first concern was to rule well, rather than to surround himself with riches, was the sort of man who deserved riches.
In one FoxTrot story arc, Andy's editor gives her a ticket to the Bulls game, even though she has little knowledge of or interest in basketball. Roger, who is a big fan of basketball, is quite dismayed at this turn of events, and wishes he had the ticket instead. In the end, Roger comes to terms with his feelings, just in time for Michael Jordan to fall in Andy's lap, and give her a ball that's autographed... to Roger.
It Makes No Matter To Me, the final poem in The Last Unicorn, has a variant of this: dude explains that "I am no king, and I am no lord... I am but a very poor harper", but his girlfriend repeats several times that she doesn't mind how poor he is because she loves him. He then admits that he isn't even a harper, and made all of it up. She just shrugs and says that in that case, she'll teach him to play the harp and makeit all true.
In Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Lady Clare", Clare is all ready to marry her cousin, Lord Ronald. She finds out that she was Switched at Birth, and that she's truly her nurse's daughter—the real Lady Clare is dead, and Ronald was next in line to inherit everything. Against her birth mother's advice, she casts off her position and dresses like a beggar, thinking that Ronald has been deprived of his right. It turns out that he still wants to marry her:
"If you are not the heiress born,
And I," said he, "the lawful heir,
We two will wed to-morrow morn,
And you shall still be Lady Clare."
BioShock has an infamous example. Whenever you encounter a Little Sister, you're given two options: "Harvest", which kills the Little Sister but gives you moreADAM, or "Rescue", which cures the Little Sister of her sea slug-induced possession but gives you less... in theory.Dr. Tenenbaum will reward you for saving the Little Sisters with free Plasmids and bonus ADAM; all things considered (see Second bullet for details) resisting temptation and playing the hero is ultimately just as rewarding, if not more so, than choosing the evil route.
Harvesting every Little Sister grants 280 ADAM which is more than one will get for rescuing. However when you account for the free plasmids and gene tonics you get from Tenenbaum, some of which can only be acquired in this manner, the value of Harvesting disappears entirely; from a rewards perspective, virtue is the superior option. It's especially worth it when you consider the 100G Achievement that comes with rescuing every little sister.
The Dig: Maggie makes Commander Low promise not to resurrect her with a life crystal if (when) activating the alien device kills her as its creator warned it would. It's possible to break this promise, which prompts the horrified Maggie to commit suicide; in the end, however, it doesn't matter, as once you've rescued the aliens, they bring both of your dead teammates back to life, with no ill effects. (Except that Maggie slaps you if you tried to resurrect her.)
Planescape: Torment: A minor example is a portal that only opens to an entrant who has no desire to enter it.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona: During the Snow Queen Quest, you are given a choice between rushing to the boss to save Toro and Tsutomu from the torture chamber or taking a lengthy side route to claim a Mirror Shard and leaving them to suffer. If you choose to pass up the Mirror Shard, you'll be rewarded after the dungeon with two Mirror Shards.
The Evil Academy Freshman Class Elections of Disgaea 3 are a brutal series of battles in which several students compete to become the class president. Prior to the competition, the School Board has the PTA abduct Raspberyl for brainwashing, with Kyoko and Asuka trying - and failing - to convince Mao to break off the competition to save her. It's only when Almaz convinces Mao that taking down the School Board would show how much more powerful he is than the rest of the candidates that Mao goes through with saving Beryl. But wouldn't you know it - after word gets out, the rest of the school nominates Mao as Freshman Class President. Sadly, Geoffrey's not all that pleased with the outcome.
In the sixth chapter of Phantom Brave, "Unexpected reward", Marona is charged with clearing Verdant Guardiana of monsters for a medical company in return for a huge amount of money (enough that she can complete her life's goal of buying Phantom Island). But when she realizes that the monsters are only a bunch of Putties trying to protect their home, she returns and tells her employer that the island is a massive dragon's nest and unsuited for habitation, forsaking her reward in the process. She later insists that doing the right thing is reward enough - and then a barrel full of treasures, sent by the Putties, wash up on the shore.
Invoked by the player in the Neverwinter Nights expansion Shadows of Undrentide. You end up inside a story where a blind beggar tells you that the woman he loves was sent to an evil monastery to keep her away from him. Although you're too late to save her the first time, you can later rewrite the story, so that the beggar is really a knight pretending to be blind and destitute just to make sure that she loves him for the right reasons. He also saves her life, having better timing than the protagonist.
A rather confusing example in Trauma Center: Derek Stiles fails an operation, and is berated by Angie for relying on his healing touch too heavily. As he continues to use it, he eventually loses the ability to do so altogether. Eventually, he comes to accept its loss, and declares that he doesn't need the healing touch to be a good doctor. At this point, he is able to use it again, just in time for an operation that would be impossible without it.
In The Order of the Stick when Miko Miyazaki was introduced, Roy was attracted to her and began flirting, only to be ignored. After Roy had an encounter requiring him to use the Belt of Gender-Bending, he told Miko that he'd gained valuable insight from the experience, and won't hit on her any more. Miko replies that maybe now she'd be willing to date him... but what Roy meant was that he'd realized Miko is an overly aggressive, self-righteous, Lawful Stupid jerk with No Social Skills, and he no longer wants her at all.
Avatar: The Last Airbender : Aang interprets Guru Pathik's statement that he must "let go" of his attachment to Katara in order to intentionally enter his powerful Avatar State as meaning he must abandon his feelings for her if he wants access to all that power. Aang chooses love, a move later applauded by Iroh (only in part, Iroh applauds choosing happiness over raw power, but does not have the answer as to whether or not this is a good choice for saving the world). Inverting the trope, once he is forced to let go anyway, he is immediately defeated. It's played straight by the end of the series when Aang has both mastered the Avatar State (enough to stop himself from landing a killing blow in self defense) and had his happy ending with Katara.
The Legend of Korra repeats it in the second season finale. After a hard battle against Vaatu, the spirit of darkness, Raava, the spirit of light and the source of the Avatar is forced out of Korra and subsequently destroyed. Korra mourns the great loss of her spiritual powers, but Tenzin tells her she doesn't need them to save the day. Instead, Korra finds an external source of cosmic spiritual energy, uses it to trounce Vaatu, and manages to use that same power to regenerate Raava's light much faster than it would happen naturally so she could be the Avatar again.
King of the Hill: In the back story Hank and Peggy weren't able to have a child due to Hank's narrow urethra and unwillingness to use in vitro fertilization. In the end, they settle for getting a puppy, Hank's beloved Ladybird... and soon after conceive Bobby. Hank later comments that he thinks the happiness they got from Ladybird helped "loosen him up" enough to finally succeed even though they weren't even trying anymore.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In the episode "The Ticket Master", Twilight Sparkle gets two tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala, and naturally all her friends want to go. Unable to decide, she sends the tickets back to Princess Celestia, telling her that if her friends can't all go, she doesn't want to go either. The princess responds by sending enough tickets for her and her friends◊. Played with later on when they regret attending the Grand Galloping Gala.
In the episode "Wonderbolts Academy", Rainbow Dash chooses to drop out of the Wonderbolt training program rather than stay with an organization that seemingly encourages cadet team leader Lightning Dust's dangerously reckless behavior (and endangering of innocent bystanders) in its members. Just as she's explaining to her friends why she chose to give up on her lifelong dream rather than her honor, Captain Spitfire runs up and points out that she agrees with Rainbow Dash that—contrary to the belief of everyone involved, including Lightning Dust—Lightning was grossly out of line, and if Rainbow'd bothered to stick around for ten more seconds after dropping out, she'd have been told that sooner. After unceremoniously booting Lightning Dust out of the program, Spitfire makes Rainbow Dash the new cadet team leader at least in part that the Wonderbolts needs a new recruit of such character who is willing to sacrifice her dreams on a matter of honor.
In "Rarity Takes Manehattan", Rarity has her designs stolen by a rival competitor in a dress competition. The stress of designing replacements in time causes her to lash out at her friends, who do their best to help her. When the competition starts, Rarity sees that her friends aren't in the audience, causing her to think that she drove them away by acting so horrible (It's later revealed that they just overslept). She runs out of the competition, and with the judge being portrayed as very strict, it seems certain that she'll lose. Instead, she's later told that she actually won first place, meaning that she had to sacrifice precisely nothing in doing the right thing.
Strawberry Shortcake: The Berryfest Princess Movie The traditional dessert for the Berryfest feast is a wanderberry, a plant that grows in a different location each time the berry is picked. The first one that the girls picked gets eaten by bunnies on the night before the feast, so Strawberry goes to find a new one. She finds one at the very last minute, but on the way back home, she runs into a sick bird and decides to feed it the entire berry, despite her friends' reminder that they need it for the feast. The bird recovers, and when Strawberry comes home, she finds that the new wanderberry has grown right outside her own house, just in time for the feast.
Romance. Many people have observed that it's only when you stop trying to find romance that you actually succeed ... probably because when you're trying really hard, you come off as desperate, which is not attractive. When you stop obsessing over it and learn to be happy with yourself as a single person, you come off as confident and self-possessed, which is.
Lost something in the house? Good way to find it: Stop looking for it! You'll run right into it.
Trying hard to remember something? Relax, it will pop into your mind later.
This trope happened to athletic boater Lawrence Lemieux in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. During a race where Lemieux was in 2nd place and had a decent shot at a medal, he noticed that the Singapore team had capsized, were injured and were in serious danger of drowning. Obviously deciding that winning a medal was not worth letting people die when he could do something, Lemieux turned back to save them, which cost him the race. However, since the world saw this Heroic Sacrifice, things worked out; the International Yacht Racing Union unanimously voted to officially award Lemieux with 2nd place in the race and he was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal, the supreme and rarest of all Olympic medals for exemplifying the spirit of the Olympic games at its finest.
In a 1973 Formula One race in The Netherlands, British driver Roger Williamson crashed and got trapped upside-down in his burning car. Fellow countryman David Purley pulled over and ran to the scene to try to save Williamson's life (disqualifying himself from the race to do so), but he was unable to put the fire out and burned himself trying to turn Williamson's car over. Williamson died in the accident, but for his bravery Purley was awarded the George Cross (the highest possible civilian medal for bravery) by the British government, and the Jo Siffert Trophy by Formula One.
Sarah Hughes at the 2002 Winter Olympics was 4th place in the Women's Figure Skating. Knowing she was out of the running for the medal, she seemed to relax and just enjoy her routine (which was practically flawless). The leading three made mistakes in the last round, leaving Sarah to collect the gold.