"And don't forget the presents. How... How full of potential they seem in all that paper, how pregnant with possibilities... and then you open them and basically the wrapping paper was more interesting and you have to say 'How thoughtful, that will come in handy!'"
Wanting Is Better Than Having is one of the Stock Aesops, which teaches that one's desire and anticipation for something is often better than the actual result. After all, desires and expectations are infinitely boundless, whereas the reality is limited by various flaws and limitations — which were overlooked during the daydreaming in expectation.
Usually appears in fictional works after a character has been wildly pursuing something. When he or she eventually gets the object of their desire, it seems it fails to live up to the unrealistic demands they've built up in their mind.
As An Aesop, it serves as a reminder that part of life is the struggle, and that's what keeps you going. If you had everything you wanted, you would have nothing to shoot for. And besides - getting what you want isn't always that good for you.
In Real Life, this trope is often linked to Hype Backlash.
A Wish Fulfillment trope and a milder, non-magical form of Be Careful What You Wish For. Also see All That Glitters. May overlap with Lonely at the Top, Vengeance Feels Empty and Victory Is Boring.
For a similar Aesop, see It's the Journey That Counts, which shares many a lesson with this trope.
Compare with Forbidden Fruit, where the wanting part comes from not being allowed to have.
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In Death Note, Light gets all he ever dreamed of midway through the series. L is dead, so all Light needs to do is slowly develop his shiny new world and fit himself for his new hat. Unfortunately, Victory Is Boring—so boring that when Mello and Near eventually show up to give him a really bad time, he's overjoyed!
In Dragon Ball, Master Roshi battles his pupils in the Tenkaichi tournament under the guise of Jackie Chun. He too believes that Victory Is Boring, so he tries to prevent them from winning so that they'll always strive to become stronger rather than rest on their laurels.
The ending of xxxHolic. Watanuki is perfectly content to wait forever for Yuuko, even though he knows she likely will never return, and even if she does, almost certainly not as how he knew her. Whether he wants to avoid all the Reality-Breaking Paradox consequences of Clow's wish or prevent the creation of another Ass-Chin or minimize his own impact on the multiverse, or whether CLAMP just wrote another Gainax Ending, we can't really be too sure. Nothing is sensible by this point. If Yuuko could die and move on to "where Clow was", the guy actually has a much better chance of seeing her if he'd stayed mortal and let himself die and pass on himself.
Ironically it could be Yuuko's final wish that he continue to live that's the one thing keeping him going.
In Bleach Mayuri Kurotsuchi has this view on the concept of perfection. In the aftermath of a duel with an enemy who had repeatedly boasted about his "perfection", Mayuri provides his own perspective on what being perfect means. In Mayuri's perspective being perfect is boring because once you've reached that pinnacle of perfection — that's it — there's no where you can go from there. He notes that people have an infatuation with perfection, but how hellish it would be to actually reach that state of existence since you would have no room for improvement, growth, or imagination; that life effectively has no purpose in continuing since you've reached the finish line of life where there is nothing more worth doing. Basically wanting perfection is OK, but having it is not an amiable situation.
In Millennium Actress, it becomes increasingly clear that Chiyoko's obsession with finding the man who gave her a key stems more from her love of the chase than her love of the actual man.
"The Hunt" is about a man who falls in love with a woman after seeing her picture in her locket and goes to great lengths to meet her. But when he finally does (and she is indeed every bit as beautiful as the picture made her out to be), he only gives the locket back to her and asks for nothing more. The implication is that he realized that she couldn't possibly live up to all his dreaming about her. Also, he's a werewolf, so that might have something to do with it.
Sandman: He didn't understand - mortals never do: the price of getting what you want is having what once you wanted.
Terry Sloane, the original Mister Terrific, had a backstory like this: He'd succeeded at everything he ever wanted to do, and with no more goals to strive for, his life was meaningless. He was contemplating suicide when he met a woman who was also suicidal for different reasons that convinced him to become a superhero.
Emperor Doom: This trope is the basic plotline of the graphic novel. Doctor Doom takes over the world through a worldwide psionic broadcast that brainwashes the whole world into obeying Doom, but found the mundane duties stressful and was bored by the lack of opposition. When Captain America finally broke free and challenged him, Doom practically let him win.
Uncle Scrooge ends up subverting this in Don Rosa's "Life and Times" series. When young Scrooge realizes that his mining sluice may have just uncovered a goose-egg sized nugget of gold, he pauses for a second and wonders if what he really wanted was the adventures and experience of his years pursuing wealth. Does he really want to be rich? After considering it, Scrooge shouts YES! and, once confirming his find, celebrates like the happiest duck in the world.
In Fables this is a defining trait of Prince Charming (ex-husband to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella); he can genuinely love a woman while courting her, but can't actually maintain a relationship (best exemplified with his second wife; he woke her with "true love's kiss" and married her, but before long he cheated on her and they divorced fairly quickly). While he seems to have learned his lesson with long-term relationships (he doesn't even attempt them any more, and keeps his dalliances short) this trope rears its head again when he becomes Fabletown's mayor; he is able to charm the electorate into a landslide without much difficulty, but gets hit hard with The Chains of Commanding, piles of paperwork and unfulfillable election promises and he bitterly regrets his decision to run for office.
Said by Grunnel of his and Brox's money in With Strings Attached: “Getting it was more interesting than having it.” Therefore the four can spend as much of it as they like, and Grunnel and Brox are happy to give it all to the Thirders later on.
He's an adventure addict, so yeah.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic A Minor Variation, Rainbow Dash becomes fabulously wealthy at a young age from her various design patents and trademarks, but all she really wanted was to design protective equipment that saves lives. So she gives almost all her money to the government, saving only enough for herself and her family to live comfortably on, and continues to pursue her real dream. It comes to no surprise that she becomes the Element of Generosity later.
"Sometimes, it's better to reach for a goal rather than achieve it."
In Superman 2, three Kryptonian criminals violently take over Earth, only to be seen later all sitting around, bored. When Ursa tries to be encouraging by saying, "You're master of all you survey," General Zod sort of shrugs and replies (in a very bored tone), "So I was yesterday. And the day before..." It's only the thought of fighting Superman that finally puts a spark back in the villain's eyes.
In Perfume, the Villain Protagonist spends most of the film creating the perfect perfume. Once he uses it, he decides that it doesn't really give him what he wants after all.
This is Megamind's problem in his movie after he's defeated Metro Man.
Renee Fromage from Animalympics gets a trippy and rather sad musical number devoted to this, where he imagines all the good things in life he's given up in pursuit of the Animalympic medal and ends up alone and lost when he finally gets it.
In City Slickers, the tough old trailboss Curly tells his dude-ranch clients about a beautiful girl he once met, but just rode away from rather than speaking to her, because he knew he was horrible husband material. When a client comments that she could have been the love of his life, Curly smiles and says "she is".
"And bear in mind, my son, that a good hope is better than a bad holding, and a good grievance better than a bad compensation."
Jack Cohen's book The Privileged Ape was originally intended to be called The Ape Who Got What He Wanted with the implication that when he got it, he didn't want it anymore.
Anne of Green Gables: Anne tries to explain this philosophy to her foster mother Marilla, who doesn't get the point of flights of fancy and anticipation.
James Branch Cabell's novels are full of this trope, but the eponymous protagonist of Jurgen learns it so hard that he walks up to his true love's bed, lifts the cover, and leaves her sleeping. He is, after all, a Monstrous Clever Fellow.
In The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid wishes to be a human and marry the prince. Because she gave up her mermaid life and became a human not being able to ever speak again and feel pain when she walked and danced and the possibility that she will die, it seems it would have been better for her to keep wanting instead of getting it.
The Pilgrims Regress by C. S. Lewis: Subverted; one character gives voice to the sentiment that "It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive," as this trope claims. His companion (the one whose views on the question agree with Lewis's own) responds that a rational person who really believed that the destination isn't as good as the journey would no longer be hoping to arrive at the destination—and thus, would no longer be "traveling hopefully."
Battle Circle, Piers Anthony's post-apocalyptic trilogy is made of this trope. No one ever seems to get what they (used to) want, except in the worst possible/least satisfying way. Overused to the point of a Broken Aesop ("Desire only leads to disappointment.")*That isn't a Broken Aesop if you are a Buddhist.
In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Santiago spends a while working for a crystal merchant, whose lifelong dream had been to earn enough money for a pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time Santiago leaves him, the merchant has more than enough money, but has realized that he will never make the pilgrimage; it's the dream of it that gives his life purpose, and he's worried that a real pilgrimage wouldn't measure up to his imagined one.
Shel Silverstein 's The Missing Piece has a circle looking for its missing piece, but when it finds it the other stuff the circle enjoyed were lost.
In Pretty Little Liars Hanna had a crush on Sean Ackard in seventh grade, fast forward four years and they are dating, Hanna wants to have sex with him and he just joined a Virginity Club and refuses to break his vow to have sex before marriage. After they break up this is how she sees it.
In the Star Trek novel Spock's Worlda sequel to "Amok Time", this was ultimately proven true. T'Pring spent her time brooding about how things had not gone according to plan, and Stonn grew jealous. He artificially induced plak tow to make their bond real and died in the process.
Live Action TV
My Name Is Earl: when Earl was in a coma he dreamed of being married to Billie (Alyssa Milano) and it was awesome! Then he recovered and actually married her, and it was... not awesome.
In season 4 of NewsRadio, Lisa is desperate to learn Jimmy's "secret of management". Dave accurately points out that she doesn't want to know.
Spock to Stonn in the Star Trek episode "Amok Time", regarding the beautiful but conniving T'Pring: "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical... but it is often true."
JD in Scrubs is usually only interested in Elliot when she's not in a relationship with him. The fact that he never learns that he only wants what he can't have is frequently pointed out to him.
In Boston Legal, Denny tells Alan that "it's better to want a woman you can't have than to have a woman you don't want."
Doctor Mikoto Nakadai from Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger had a similar problem to Mister Terrific. He was naturally good at anything he tried, due to being the host for half of the series' main villain, and spent most of his life bored out of his skull from the lack of challenge. When he found the dangerous prototype Transformation Trinket, he became a supervillain rather than a good guy because it was more fun, and learning that the device will eventually explode only made it more exciting.
Much of Oscar Lomax's plot line in the first season of Psychoville is based around his obsessive quest for a "commodity", Snappy the Crocodile. When he finally acquires it, he chucks it into the ocean, revealing that he had completed his collection on at least one previous occasion, but had found that actually completing his quest left him bereft of purpose and nearly suicidal.
In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, one of Dark Mercury's goals is to kill Sailor Moon. When she believes she's succeeded, she goes into BSOD and reverts back to normal.
Also, through most of the show, Kunzite tries to kill Mamoru, but when Mamoru's about to get killed by Jadeite, Kunzite saves him.
In a episode of Married... with Children, Al Bundy is surprised when he noticed his football hero charisma from his high school days has suddenly returned, when women - including Marcy - start finding him attractive again. Of course, Peggy is upset by this which makes it even sweeter for Al. However, by the end of the episode, he gets bored and depressed. He realizes that it doesn't matter in the end, because he's already married with children. He loses the charisma shortly afterwards and goes back to looking Hollywood Homely.
In a Season 1 episode of The Twilight Zone called "A Nice Place to Visit", Henry "Rocky" Valentine is a crook who gets killed by cops in a shootout and finds out that he can have anything he wants so he thinks he's in Heaven but he's actually in Hell.
In Freaks and Geeks, Sam Weir spends most of the series pining for cheerleader Cindy Sanders. When he finally does start dating her, he finds that they actually have nothing in common and he breaks up with her.
"After The Thrill Is Gone" by The Eagles is about this trope.
"After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It", a song from the 1920s, exposes the trope perfectly.
The last movement of "The Fountain of Lamneth" by Rush, when the narrator finally finds the titular fountain:
Now at last I fall before
The Fountain of Lamneth
I thought I would be singing
But I'm tired, out of breath
Many journeys end here
But the secret's told the same:
Life is just a candle, and a dream
Must give it flame
A story arc in Calvin and Hobbes had Calvin sending away cereal box-tops for a motorized propeller beanie. While he restlessly waits the six weeks for the beanie to arrive, Calvin keeps dreaming about how he'll be able to use it to fly around the neighborhood like a helicopter. True to the trope, when the beanie finally comes, it's just a beanie with a propeller, and Calvin kicks it away in frustration. At least it came in a cool box...
He and Hobbes discuss this trope more directly in a later strip, where Calvin decides the moral of "wanting is excited, having is boring" is that you must never stop buying new things.
Throughout Bloom County and Outland, Opus the penguin repeatedly searched for his mother. He eventually finds her, only to discover she was overly controlling and tried to force him to marry a large, repulsive penguin named Eunice.
There's a For Better or for Worse strip where Ellie is at the mall with a very young April. April sees a stuffed animal in a toy store and decides she wants it. Ellie takes her out of the store, but she keeps screaming, "Want dat! Want dat!" Ellie eventually gets fed up and goes back to the store to buy the animal. April hugs it and looks very happy . . . until she sees another stuffed animal on the shelf. She throws the first animal onto the floor and says, "Want dat!" about the new one.
The two princes in Into the Woods run on this trope. They obsess in the song "Agony" over the princesses they can't have (Cinderella has run away leaving only her shoe and Rapunzel is trapped in a tower), but, upon winning the princesses, they're no longer as attracted to them and immediately cheat on them with a new pair of seemingly unattainable princesses (one prince is afraid of blood and can't get through the brambles to Sleeping Beauty, while the other is afraid of dwarves and can't talk to Snow White). It's all capped off by this exchange, as Cinderella and her Prince break up:
Cinderella's Prince: I shall always love the maiden who ran away.
Cinderella: And I, the faraway prince.
There is a sequence in Inherit the Wind wherein defense attorney Henry Drummond discusses the difference between having and wanting, and how the former rarely lives up to the latter. The story is an event from Drummond's childhood, in which as a young boy he asked his parents for an expensive, finely painted hobby-horse he saw in a shop window. His parents, poor farmers barely able to make ends meet, scratched and saved for an entire year to get him the rocking horse... only to see it fall apart from dry rot the first time the boy tried to ride it. Drummond tells the story cheerfully, and points out that its important to preserve your dreams, but its clear that experiencing this trope was Drummond's first step on the road of skeptical cynicism.
In The Powerpuff Girls, a collector of Powerpuff Girls' merchandise freaks out and turns into a villain when his collection is complete. (Well, almost complete - he just needs to collect the actual Powerpuff Girls.)
This is lampshaded by Lisa in The Simpsons where Bart is trying to take her glue simply because she has it, Bart denies it, but to prove her point she hands him the glue, which he then says he doesn't want and hands it back to her.
In one Kim Possible episode, Bonnie achieves her ambition of wresting the cheer squad captaincy away from Kim, then learns to her dismay that having the job means continuing the hard work she did to get the job. The next time we see the cheer squad, Kim is back in charge.
Recess: The kids discover a cool fort to hang out in, only to have it promptly stolen from them by bullies. After spending the whole episode trying to win it back, afterwards they realize that it was more fun trying to take back the fort than actually hanging out in it. They promptly call up the bullies to try and take it back from them.
In the third episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic "Ticket Master", the ponies all look forward to attending the Grand Galloping Gala, thinking it will be the best night ever. In the first season finale "Best Night Ever", they attend the gala only to have their hopes crushed. Their attempts to make the Gala the best night ever lead to chaos and disaster which Princess Celestia was hoping would happen since it would liven up the normally dull event.
"Call of the Cutie" revolves around a young pony, Apple Bloom, who is mercilessly teased because she does not have a cutie mark, signifying one's special talent in life. Sweetie Bell and Scootaloo defend her by stating that she is truly blessed because her journey to find herself still has infinite possibilities.
One episode of Little Bill had the main character begging his parents for a Captain Brainstorm video game. When he finally got it, he and his friends were rather disappointed at its primitive nature, preferring to use their imaginations to create their own Brainstorm adventures instead.
Used during a Robot Chicken sketch. After a flood wipes out The Smurfs' village, Gargamel finally achieves his goal of eating them. As it turns out, they taste really bad. He throws the food out, and orders Chinese.
Doug helps Mr. Dink catch Chester, the fish that took his old wallet 30 years ago. Mr. Dink then gets upset because he will no longer have a reason to fish or buy more equipment. Doug tells him he can just throw the fish back, so he does.
In Aladdin: The Series, a man who spent years hunting a sand shark realizes that he has no idea what to do with his life after finally catching it. He sets the beast free so he can continue the hunt.
An episode of Family Guy has a Cutaway Gag where Peter and Chris do the shopping like Lois keeps telling them to, only for her to beat them up and say she likes to say it better than having them do it.
There's a short in Seth Macfarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy (basically a collection of cutaway gags that didn't make it on Family Guy) where Wile E. Coyote finally catches the Road Runner. He sinks into depression and almost commits suicide because his life lacks direction.
South Park: During the Black Friday three parter. The kids are doing some serious LARP-ing that escalates into a war for the new game consoles where much double-crossing ensues. Cartman's side manages to win and get the console he wanted. But the kids realize it was much more fun acting out their little game then playing on the game system.
In a Be Careful What You Wish For episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) the Turtles land in a world where they didn't exist, and Krang had no body because Shredder conquered Earth without needing to give Krang a body. The Turtles find Shredder having to deal with the paperwork and responsibilities of managing Earth, and him realizing it was too much for him. When Shredder finds there is an Earth he hadn't conquered, he wants to go there and avoid this one (and possibly warn his counterpart it's not worth fulfilling the ambitions of world conquest).
From a psychology standpoint this is true. Your brain responds more positively to imagining something good than it does actually receiving it.
A study cited in this Cracked article suggests taking shorter vacations more frequently instead of fewer longer ones, since the satisfaction and happiness levels were at their highest before the trip when the person is in anticipation mode.
Every birthday/Christmas/Hannukah/whatever has at least one present which fits this trope.
This trope is somewhat hinted at by the third (and supposedly most severe) of three Chinese curses, "May you find what you are looking for."
Romance, marriage, and even/especially sex. Many want it as and think of it to be a magical thing, then they realize it is something you have to actually maintain with actual hard work and true dedication. The divorce rates reflect this. People who know what it takes usually avoid this however.
Babies. Many young teenage girls and adults fantasize about becoming mothers without thinking of the financial burdens that they will face after their babies are born, and all of the attention and hard work that is required to take care of a baby.