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Earn Your Happy Ending

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War Is Hell, but with enough determination, and a bit of luck, you'll make it home.
"I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it."
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The basic idea of this trope is that a cast of characters in a story go through a lot more hardship, anguish, and grief than is really necessary. (Especially war.) In the end, however, you see them get their happily-ever-after. Though humans may act bad and the world may seem like it's a crapsack, that doesn't mean that people can't have a good ending, or that things can't be improved with hard work or even The Power of Love.

Not to be confused with the Golden Ending in video games, where players actually have to earn their happy ending. It is possible for both tropes to be in play at the same time, however. This trope is a specific example of positive Laser-Guided Karma.

Going by the memes, if a Crapsack World is Grimdark and a world where Rousseau Was Right is Noblebright, then a story where this happens might be called "Nobledark" - it's a world where there is a lot of ugliness and pain, but victory is absolutely possible and things can change for the better if you only put the effort in.

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There may be some overlap with Bittersweet Ending or Surprisingly Happy Ending. Compare Earn Your Bad Ending (the game-exclusive polar opposite), Happily Ever After (a Super-Trope to this) and Throw the Dog a Bone.

As this is an ending trope, assume examples will be spoilertastic.

Sub-pages and examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • After twenty years of rivalling Peanuts's Charlie Brown as newspaper's biggest Butt-Monkey, Bloom County's Opus finds paradise by falling into the pages of his copy of Goodnight Moon. Even Steve Dallas is touched. Too bad it was overridden by Bloom County 2015 revealing it was All Just a Dream.
  • The three leads of Retail, based on what little was revealed in the final strips, get happier fates in the wake of Grumbel's closure:
    • Cooper gets a job at a shipping company thanks to his connection to Darnell (at the old South Heights store), so he no longer has to deal with customers, and makes twice as much as he ever did at Grumbel's...
    • ...which allows his wife Val to finally quit working and devote herself to her writing career full time.
    • Marla takes a job as an office manager, and lives her dream of quitting on the spot to Stuart's face, with her parting shot revealing that almost everyone else quit too, leaving Stuart with hardly anyone for the store's closure.
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    Esports 
  • Dota 2: When The International 2018 rolled around, the once-favored 4-time Valve Major champions OG were ranked last amongst the 18 teams competing. They bombed out of the previous two Internationals in top 12 and top 8 successively. They lost their captain and offlaner in sudden and shocking fashion that left even the remaining players off-guard by the news, scrambling to recover from the fallout. A major shift in the roster was in order as their coach stepped out of his coaching seat to play on the offlane, their carry returned to his old, yet famed support role along with taking the burden of captaining the team, and the team signed a relatively unknown pubstar to play mid and convinced their old midlaner, who hadn't played professionally since his departure from the team after the previous TI, to return to the team as their carry, all of this in time for the regional qualifiers, which they won easily. They had a rocky start to the group stage, but ultimately placed top 4 in their group to secure an upper bracket spot. There, the team upset three favorites on their way to the Grand Finals, exacting revenge on the two players who had left the team for their current one in the process, and ultimately won the whole damn thing in a thrilling 5 game series. It was a long five months for Johan 'Notail' Sundstein and his crew, spanning from March all the way to August, but they won the game's most illustrious tournament and made believers in OG out of almost everyone.

    Folklore and Fairy Tales 
  • A rare double example in The Gold Mountain where the nameless hero must first win a princess and a kingdom by enduring multiple beatings and death without once trying to flee, beg, or defend himself; then, after losing his family and kingdom, he must quest to get them back.
  • The Goose Girl involves a fair bit of struggle to get to Happily Ever After, when the princess is robbed and impersonated by her maid, and employed as a servant.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Odysseus embodies this trope so much you could rename it The Odyssey. After surviving the bloody Trojan War, Poseidon develops a grudge against him, he suffers numerous misfortunes, near-death experiences, and a trip to the Underworld, eventually loses all of his friends and crew and is left to drift on the sea for months, is made a sex-slave for a few years, has been gone for two decades by the time he finally comes home, and finds that his wife is being forced to pick a suitor, so he and his son have to slaughter them all. And his dog died the minute he caught sight of him.
  • The tale of Cupid and Psyche. Her own temptation isolated her from the one she loved. She went through hell for him—quite literally—and had to stand up to her mother-in-law, all while pregnant with his child; but in the end Cupid forgives her and rescues her, and marries her. And their daughter's name? Delight.
    • Technically, she fails; she falls into an eternal sleep and it's Cupid who, coming out of his depression, gives her her happy ending by pleading to Zeus.
    • Though, they both needed to earn their happy endings. So, even if Psyche had finally gained Aphrodite’s forgiveness and approval it would not change a thing if Cupid had not forgiven her (he too had to earn it by coming to terms with the fact that his wife is fallible, and standing up to his mother).
  • Hercules seems to have this misfortune. Before he is even born Hera conspires to make his life as hellish as possible by denying him the kingship Zeus intends for him. He is attacked by snakes as a baby. He is forced to undergo twelve years of harsh labors after killing his family in a Hera-induced rage and has additional torments thrown on by Hera during those years. Everywhere he goes he has to fight monsters or gods. He is often cheated by kings after he fulfills his obligations to them, leading him to seek retribution later. He saves Olympus from a race of giants. Finally, he is betrayed by his second wife, who inadvertently poisons him with hydra blood, leaving him in agonizing pain and having to be burned alive. His crime that started all of this? Being born the son of Zeus. All that waited for him in the underworld? Wandering around wheat fields in the dark for all eternity. The least Zeus could do was elevate him to godhood.
  • Aeneas, as well. His city, Troy, is burned by the Odysseus and the Greeks. He sails around on the Mediterranean Sea for six years, meeting every threat that Odysseus did, lands in Carthage where he marries the princess Dido (who commits suicide when he leaves), and upon arriving in Latium enters into wars that kill off most of his friends.
  • Some religions have this as their premise—life is hard. Being Good Sucks. But it is worth it, in the end: the evil are punished, the faithful are saved, and we go on to our reward, forever and ever.
    • From the last book in The Bible, describing the end of time, Revelation 21:3-4,
      And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
      • Subverted in that people can't "earn" or "work" their way to heaven by filling out a checklist. In Paul's letter to the Romans (specifically, Romans 11:6), he says this in regards to how to "work" your way to heaven:
        And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
      • In other words, no matter how hard you work you can't earn your way to Heaven. This sounds pretty bad at first, until you realize that Paul's meaning in this is that because Jesus died for our sins, all we have to do is accept him as our savior to make it to Heaven, which is a lot easier than trying to earn brownie points with God.
  • Played straight for Jesus. After all, He went through to save us, the Book of Revelation identifies Him as the future ruler of the Resurrected faithful. However, being God, his dominion over us should have been His birthright rather than something earned, and many people will end up in Hell anyway.
    • The last part of which really depends on the teachings of one's denomination: Lutherans believe that all have been saved by Christ's sacrifice regardless of any sins, whereas Catholics teach that one must accept salvation and some have to go through Purgatory before their eternal reward.
  • The Book of Job is possibly the Trope Codifier: a kind and righteous man has his entire life ruined, including seeing his entire family killed off. Luckily, it turns out to be a Secret Test of Character (which he passes) and gets everything back (including his family being brought Back from the Dead.)
  • Appears in Islam, too. Al-Baqra 214 says, "Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested like those before you?"

    Pinball 
  • Take almost any pinball table that requires you to complete several "missions" to unlock a final, very difficult Wizard Mode - you'll probably have to go through this trope to win it all. This is especially so when you only have three balls to work with, losing a ball would also force you to start a mission over, and it can be pretty darn easy to accidentally drop the ball into those @#$%-ing outlanes if you don't know how to tilt the ball back into the field from there. Some missions might be really tough just because you can't easily pull off a tricky shot or hit a particular target.

    Real Life 
  • The Jakarta Incident, AKA the flight of British Airways Flight 9. Imagine, if you will, being the pilot of a 747 when, about an hour into the flight, ghostly lights begin flickering on your windshield that look like the hyperspace effect from Star Wars. Before you realize what's happening, smoke fills the cabin and the engines on your aircraft begin flaming violently, before cutting out, one... by... one. Now you're piloting a giant glider over the open ocean, in the dead of night, without power, instruments, a barely functioning radio, and a rapidly depressurizing cabin. The only thing you can do is try again and again to restart the engines- to no success, time and time again. As you turn around to make an emergency landing, you realize that, oh yeah, there's a bunch of mountains between you and the runway. All hope is lost, right? Well... Let's just say the crew's medals of honor were well-deserved.
  • This is the basic premise of The American Dream. You start out poor, you work hard, and you finally earn yourself a better life for yourself and your family.
  • Many believe this to be what life is all about.
  • Ask a veteran, any veteran, from any war, what it was like to return home to their family once the war was over. If they're not a Shell-Shocked Veteran, odds are their answer will be this.
  • Actors can end up with a version of this if they take a role they come to hate (due to working with someone they can't stand, having to wear a really uncomfortable costume, or having to do something else really unpleasant every day for months). Considering they usually get paid millions once their work is done, most of them probably consider it worth it.

 
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The Land Before Time

After a perilous and intense journey in a desolate wasteland filled with threats, Littlefoot and friends manage to reach the Great Valley to reunite with their family.

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