Cuddy: Oh, yeah, I looked up your philosopher, Jagger; you're right, you don't always get what you want, but I found that, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
Sometimes stated as "you get what you wish for, and what you didn't wish for, too."
Bob has a strenuous task he's pursuing. It can be personal, romantic, career-related... no matter what it is, it's really difficult. It might even be impossible; that is, unless he sacrifices his health or risks the loss of things which are important to him. He might even concede, in his less-obsessed moments, that he doesn't really need it that badly.
Then one day Bob decides that his quest is doing him more harm than good. He makes the hard choice to walk away, having accepted that getting the thing he wants wouldn't make him happier and he should be content with what he ha—
—what's this? Karma agrees? And has seen fit to bestow a similar or more rewarding gift upon Bob anyway? Wow! That's just wonderful! Bob gets to eat his cake and have it too! Talk about a well-deserved happy ending!
When executed well, this Aesop can be an effective lesson that the desire for more, especially when fed by Greed, Gluttony, Lust or other vices, isn't always worth indulging: Bob felt unfulfilled because he didn't know how to appreciate what he had, not because he didn't have enough. When he learned to see the value in the good things that were already in his life, he found that contentment is its own reward.
When executed poorly, the audience will pick up a different message: Hard Work Hardly Works, so don't bother pursuing what you want — the universe will provide it (but only when you decide that you don't need it after all).
One use of this trope is to put a twist on Cursed With Awesome. Suppose Bob, suffering under a burden that both tortures and empowers him, realizes that he can simply choose to stop seeing it as a curse, leaving nothing but Awesome. If, for example, he is cursed to live forever, he may spend years watching his Love Interest and True Companions die — but as time passes he will find new love, new friends, and meet numerous good people who remain good even in A World Half Full. Suddenly, Living Forever Is Awesome!
Supertrope to Everything but the Girl. 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 has still been rewarded by what he learned or attained while struggling to attain it.
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.
- Girls und Panzer.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.
- Dragon Ball:
- At the end of Dragonball Z, Vegeta caps off his Character Development by admitting that Goku is more powerful than him. During Dragonball Z Battle Of Gods, which takes place after that admittance, he briefly surpasses Goku by beating the crap out of Beerus after Beerus smacks Bulma.
- Dragonball Super: The end of the Universal Survival Saga. Once the tournament is over 17 gets to make a wish on the Super Dragon Balls. He came to the tournament intending to wish for a cruise ship so he could take his family on vacation. However, he is inspired by the heroics of his teammates and instead wishes for the revival of all the losing universes. The Grand Priest reveals that the whole tournament was essentially a test to see if the winner would be willing to show compassion to those of other universes. If a selfish wish had been made, Zeno would have erased everything. By making a selfless wish, 17 proved that the multiverse deserves to exist. Bulma goes on to reward 17 by buying him the cruise ship he wanted.
- At the end of Steins;Gate, Okabe has saved the world and the woman he loves, but due to Time Travel being involved, nobody but him will (consciously) remember all the hardships and struggles he faced to Earn Your Happy Ending. Thus, he figures that Kurisu has probably gone back to America and forgotten all about him. However, as he's accepting this since this means that she's alive and happy "doing her own thing", he runs into Kurisu in a chance encounter, Kurisu having stayed in Japan for the past month trying to find Okabe. Furthermore, she returns his feelings after the conversation they have makes her realize everything he's been through and remember every timeline herself.
- This trope comes up in a vision of the past in My Hero Academia. All For One shows his brother a man whose Quirk causes his parents to be disgusted by him, and a Quirkless man who can't defend himself from those with powers. He solves the problem by giving the former's Quirk to the latter, with the expectation that both men will be in his debt and help him when he needs it.
- Shingetsu in GRANBELM is Cursed With Awesome to begin with, and it gets worse when it turns out she has to choose between sticking with her intention to rid the world of magic entirely because of the harm that Magiaconatus and mage society have caused, and keeping Mangetsu alive when their relationship had been the one bright spot in Shingetsu's life that wasn't pulled away. She almost gives up on the former, but at Mangetsu's insistence, goes for it instead knowing that she'll lose the latter. Until Mangetsu reappears to add her power to Shingetsu's in the Grand Finale and reassures her that she's doing the right thing before vanishing again... and then both she and Shingetsu are mysteriously restored to reality anyway in the last seconds of the show.
- Swamp Thing: The Alan Moore revision. Original Super Hero Origin; genius scientist Alec Holland, while researching a plant growth formula that he hopes will end world hunger, is killed by a bomb planted by a jealous fellow researcher who covets his wife. His body, soaked in the formula, falls into the bayou where The chemicals, and forces within the bog, mutated (him) into a muck-encrusted mockery of a man! Except, that's not what happened. Alec Holland died in the original attack. His body fell into the bayou. The plants in the bayou ate his body, soaked in the growth formula, "And they become infected by a powerful consciousness that does not realize it is no longer alive!" Swamp Thing is thus not Alec Holland, but "a plant that THOUGHT it was Alec Holland... A plant that was trying its level best to be Alec Holland... and that pathetic misshapen parody was the closest that it could get." "He isn't Alec Holland... He never will be Alec Holland... He never was Alec Holland... He's just a ghost... A ghost dressed in weeds." Bummer, eh? Except that where a human turned into a plant is a monster seeking to regain his humanity, a plant with the mind and memories of a human is an extension of all plantlife on earth. It can perceive all that occurs among plantlife. It can recreate itself anywhere plantlife exists. And it can command that plantlife as an extension of itself. He is nothing less than an intelligent avatar of the ecosystem, a Physical God! And even as such a being, it still possesses human intelligence and human emotions, so it can still find love.
- In a way, Batman is actually this. Batman can never get back his parents and his war on crime serves not only as an outlet for his rage but also to try and ensure that no one suffers like he did, even if he has to do it alone. Ironically, through this and despite his status as a loner, he would end up with one of the largest families in the DCU, starting with his sons Dick, Jason (who despite it all, does sometimes make it back), Tim and Damian. Then we have his surrogate daughters in Barbara (who is Commissioner Gordan's daughter), Cassandra (whom he actually adopted) and even Stephanie. Then you have his various friends and confidants in other heroes and the Justice League (special mention to Superman and Wonder Woman). And of course, surrogate father figure Alfred and surrogate mother figure, Dr. Leslie Thompkins. So, Batman's decision to love in spite of his crusade rewards him with the family he lost.
- In Zillions magazine (aka Consumer Reports for Kids), one episode of "Daze Of Our Lives," a recurring sitcom-like comic strip involves two girls trying out for cheerleading and basketball, with one girl wanting to do cheerleading and the other wanting to play basketball. Naturally, each one botches the tryouts for the one they wanted due to stressing over what to do, but they succeed in getting a spot on the other's team, leading the first girl to wonder why she couldn't do well when it mattered for her.
- 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 himnote , but other versions don't and even describe the prince as the most handsome man Beauty has ever seen or even the most handsome 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 Loathly Ladyis closely related to Beauty and the Beast.
- The False Prince and the True, the prince redeems his promise to marry an old woman for saving his life. She naturally proves to be a lovely young princess.
- Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling" is all about this - as a duckling, the hero is ugly. As a swan, he is beautiful. All he has to do is stop trying to be a duckling.
- This Child ballad.
- 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.
- The Little Mermaid: The mermaid dies rather than take her Last-Second Chance to kill the prince she loves and return to life as a mermaid. In the rewritten ending, this sacrifice earns her a place on the path to an immortal soul of her own, which is what she wanted from the start.
- 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.
- The Second Try: In this Peggy Sue fic, Asuka and Shinji 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... and then in the second-to-last last chapter, we get an episode where Rei finds an inexplicably familiar young child wandering lost in Tokyo-3.
- Naruto Asunder: Naruto's eventual decision to not become Hokage boils down to this. He points out to Tsunade that at this point in his life, he's already gotten what he wanted and fully admits he'll never be pragmatic enough to sacrifice those close to him. And it doesn't bother him one bit.
- In Juxtapose, Izuku and Hitoshi enter the Sports Festival thinking that only one of them is going to enter the Hero Course, wishing each other the best of luck but promising to not hold back either. In the finale, they knock each other out in a fistfight and All Might announces that they'll both be entering the Hero Course.
- Eventually in Eroninja, Tsunade offers to make Naruto Hokage but by this point, he's had some heated debates with Gaara (who is the Kazekage) and met Minato (via time travel), so he turns down the position, citing how both chose to put their village before their family and he refuses to do the same.
- In The Magic Goes Away, once she's taken away from the Hinata Inn and her old review school, Naru feels like she'll never get into Tokyo University. Then during a chance detention with three other students, she gets drawn into the world of making videogames and finds working on the game with them far more fulfilling than studying to go to Tokyo University.
- In Witch Weekly Serenity spends significant effort trying to catch Harry cheating on Ginny (or vice-versa) so she can write an article which will springboard her career. When she finally realizes that both Potters are disappointingly squeaky-clean, she gives up and writes an article about how much in love they still are. Ginny, touched by the tone and the research involved, invites her to collaborate on a book about the Voldemort years.
- In Being Dead Ain't Easy, Kaiba explains to Joey that KaibaCorp isn't just a job for him, it's a part of his identity. So when Yami Bakura offers him a deal, saving Joey in exchange for Kaiba's company, Joey is shocked that Kaiba agrees. In the epilogue, Yami Bakura discovers that not only does he not know how to run a company, taking control of a corporation right after the CEO is hospitalized from multiple assassination attempts looks incredibly suspicious (although that wasn't his fault). Yami Bakura returns the company, so Kaiba keeps both Joey and his company.
- Disney's Aladdin spends much of the movie masquerading as a prince so he can have a shot at marrying Princess Jasmine. After "Prince Ali" is outed, Genie suggests that Aladdin use his final wish to become a prince again. But Aladdin honors his earlier promise to wish Genie free instead, choosing to be an honest street-rat rather than a fake prince. The sultan, impressed by everything Aladdin has done, changes the law on the spot to say that the princess may marry whomever she deems worthy. Naturally, Jasmine immediately chooses Aladdin.
- Coco: Miguel spends most of the movie desperate to pursue music against his family's wishes, even if it means sneaking behind their backs or running away from them. It isn't until Miguel is willing to give up music to stay with his family that they give him their blessings to become a musician.
- Simultaneously, Miguel's deceased family have spent the whole movie trying to get him to return to the land of the living, but on the condition that he swear off music in exchange for their blessing due to Imelda's belief that music careers tear families apart. It's only when Imelda offers her blessing with no conditions that she finally gets what she really wanted all along—a family that's strong, unified, and healing rather than torn apart by musical ambition.
- The Princess and the Frog: Dr. Facilier offers Tiana the restaurant she's always dreamed of, 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 fashion.
- Kung Fu Panda:
- Having trained Po in kung fu, Master Shifu turns the meal he promised Po as reward for completing his training into one final test, challenging him to steal the last steamed bun from Shifu. When Po finally manages to get the bun, he shrugs and tosses it back. As revealed earlier, Po tends to binge-eat whenever he is upset. As such, when he finally passes all the test, he passes the bun to Shifu with a confident "I'm not hungry," showing Po has gained a great deal of self-confidence.
- This is greatly juxtaposed with the antagonist, Tai Lung. Tai Lung spends the entire movie, and indeed his entire life, training to become the Dragon Warrior, and by extension, become worthy of the Dragon Scroll. Unfortunately, his years of devotion, encouraged by Master Shifu, are all for nothing when Oogway says he is not the Dragon Warrior. He ends up rampaging and forcing Shifu and Oogway to stop him and imprison him. Many years, the length of a movie, and two-thirds of a fight scene later, he finally manages to get his hands on the Scroll at long last... Only the Scroll is not a source of power; it doesn't even bear any writing. It's merely a very shiny scroll, showing a reflection of the reader. Tai Lung is unable to grasp the wisdom of the scroll, in part out of his desire for acknowledgment (he was an orphan and in ancient China, lineage was a big deal) for his place in the world. Po meanwhile understands that there is "no secret ingrediant", but that it is the belief in one's self and talents that makes one special. This inability to grasp this is the one thing keeping Tai Lung from a HeelFace Turn.
- Moana has the hero Maui sacrificing his magical fishhook, which is the source of many of his powers, and to which he attaches a great deal of his self-worth, blocking a blow from the mad volcano demon to protect Moana and right a past wrong. In the end, the goddess presents him with a new one as thanks for his service.
- Subverted in The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. After SpongeBob saves Bikini Bottom, Mr. Krabs decides to give him Squidward's manager job:
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."
- Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph is a literal Punch-Clock Villain from the game Fix-It-Felix Jr.; as in, being the bad guy who wrecks the building is literally his job, just like how being the heroic contractor that fixes things is Felix's job. The problem is, he lives in a world that exists in a video game arcade, where the villains, who, again, are just doing their jobs, get stigmatized by the NPCs of their games, even though they're perfectly decent outside of their job. Needless to say, after thirty years of disrespect from the NPCs, Ralph proceeds to "game-jump" to try and earn a medal and prove he can be a hero. However, after he ends up causing quite a mess (namely by releasing an infestation and outing a former game-jumping villain), Ralph goes out to try and set things right. Only then does he finally get the acknowledgement of heroism, especially from his new friends, the one helped selflessly earlier to begin with.
- At the end of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Satan finally overcomes his abusive relationship with Saddam Hussein and sends the cruel dictator back to Hell, killing him for good. He thanks Kenny, who, after dying earlier and being sent to the Underworld himself, did his best to convince Satan that he was worthy of real love. As a reward, the Dark Lord offers Kenny any wish he wants, and the boy chooses to hit a cosmic Reset Button by putting everything back to the way it was before the war between the United States and Canada began. Chef points out that this will send Kenny back to Hell, but he says it's worth it to save his friends and family. After finally revealing his face and speaking clearly for the first time—"Goodbye, you guys"—Kenny fades away, and Satan, as promised, releases a World-Healing Wave that rejuvenates the land and restores the dead to life. As everyone celebrates, Kyle, Stan, and Cartman look up and notice Kenny flying through the sky, where a personal Heaven of nude women with enormous breasts awaits him—by willingly going back to Hell, he proved himself truly unselfish and thus worthy of nirvana.
- 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.
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has near the end a Friend or Idol Decision which is actually a Secret Test of Character where Charlie had to choose between selling the Everlasting Gobstopper to Wonka's rival to get his family out of poverty, and keeping his promise to the Candy Tycoon along with his penniless status. It's easy to guess how it ends.
- In Midnight Run Jack spends the entire film trying to bring a fugitive back to collect the bounty, refusing bribes and fighting off threats on every side. In the end, he decides that the man doesn't deserve to be in prison and lets him go, giving up the bounty. After he does so, the fugitive reveals that he'd been carrying several hundred thousand dollars in cash the whole time, and gives it to Jack out of gratitude.
- In the movie Penelope (2006), 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, sometime 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 Muppets' Wizard 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. At first, she refuses, but Aunt Em encourages her to go and pursue her dream.
- The Muppets: The Muppets' 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. Cue the end credits, when Gonzo accidentally beans Tex Richman in the head with a bowling ball. Thanks to the head injury finally giving him the ability to laugh, Richman gives them the theater and the name anyway.
- 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.
- 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: 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. It's subverted with the love interests of the other two ladies, who they end up loving despite being completely penniless.
- 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.
- Subverted at the end of Click. As Michael is making amends with his family, he finds the remote in his house, with a letter from Morty, saying "I know you'll do the right thing this time". Michael, however, throws the remote into the trash, and after making sure it's gone for good (earlier, he was unable to get rid of the remote regardless of what he did), he goes off to play with his kids. Of course, that may have been what Morty meant.
- 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 care whether they approve or deny his parole request, 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."
- 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.
- Thor: 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 tells the giant it can kill him, which it nearly does. This Heroic Sacrifice shows Thor to be less vainglorious and warlike, so Mjölnir returns to him — and he immediately uses it to kick the giant's butt.
- Back to the Future: Towards the beginning, Marty admires a pickup truck, wondering what it'd be like if he had it. When he comes back from 1955, he discovers he has that truck (or another truck like it).
- La La Land - Mia is frustrated with constant rejection from all her auditions so she decides to put on her own one-woman play. Hardly anyone turns up, and this convinces Mia to give up on acting altogether. It turns out a casting director saw the play and asks Mia to audition for a film. It's implied the film ended up becoming Mia's big break.
- 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 80 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 Dragon Bones, the protagonist accepts that castle Hurog, which he was going to inherit, is lost to him forever, and focuses on helping the helpless. Having gained a new goal in life, he's considerably happier ... and of course, he does get his castle back in the end. Of course, it's a ruin, as he has killed his friend Oreg, who was the Genius Loci of the place, to make it collapse on the villains. But he was more attached to the place than to the building. And Oreg is not as dead as it seems.
- 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 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.
- Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales features the Wife of Bath's Tale, a variation on the "Loathy Lady" story mentioned in Fairy Tales folder above. In the story, a wandering knight rapes a young maiden and is sentenced to death. He begs the queen of the country for a chance at redemption, and she offers him a challenge: he has one year to find the answer to the question "What does a woman want?" If he gives a satisfactory answer, he'll live, and if he fails to come up with a solution, the death sentence will be carried out. The knight travels around the world, asking various wise people for answers, but none are correct. When his time is almost up, an ugly, elderly woman offers to teach him the secret if he agrees to do her a favor. The knight agrees, and the crone explains that what women really want is the freedom to make their own choices. The knight gives this answer to the queen, who declares it correct; the old woman then reappears and reveals that the favor in question is the knight's hand in marriage. Though repulsed by her, he keeps his word, and to his shock, his ugly bride becomes a beautiful young woman on their wedding night! But while this might appear to be a Secret Test of Character, the real challenge is yet to come. The bride offers her new husband a choice, explaining that she can either be ugly and eternally faithful to him, or beautiful but eternally unfaithful. The knight, realizing that he'll be miserable either way, remembers the crone's words and tells his wife to make the choice for herself. This pleases his bride, as it proves that he has grown in wisdom, and she reveals that because he let her choose, she will be both beautiful and faithful.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry is urged by Aberforth to save himself and leave the task of killing Voldemort to someone else. Harry refuses to do so, despite this goal causing him to separate himself from Ginny and lose all hope of a safe, normal life, on the grounds that he'd rather sacrifice his personal desires to ensure no one else is hurt by Voldemort. Even when he learns that he needs to let Voldemort kill him to ensure Voldemort's demise, completely removing any chance at all of returning to his loved ones, he goes through with it. It turns out the whole thing was a gambit set up by Dumbledore. Turns out that Voldemort damaged his soul so much that when he tried to kill Harry and gave him that scar as an infant, he made Harry into an 8th Horcrux. This explainstheir connection, Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue and so on. Harry willing letting himself be killed instead kills off the soul fragment in him and leaving Voldemort more vulnerable (with the last horcrux being destoryed in Nagini thanks to Neville) and leaves him just as himself. Not only that, but because Harry willingly died to protect everyone helping him, he invoked the same magical protection his mom gave him, ensuring that Voldemort really can't hurt anyone else for the rest of the battle. Voldemort loses when he tries to use the Elder Wand on Harry (but due to wand rules and disarment, Harry became the master after disarming Draco who became it after disarming Dumbledore). The wand refuses to kill its master and backfires, ending Voldemort once and for all. And then the Where Are They Now epilogue confirms that Harry ends up marrying Ginny and having the family he's always wanted.
- Throughout the Twilight series, Bella insists she wants to be a vampire and stay with Edward forever, even though she's warned that it'll mean she'll have to fake her death, abandon her home, friends, and family, lose her ability to have children, will spend some period of time immediately after the transformation as a murderous newborn, will break Jacob's heart, and almost certainly will spark a war between the werewolves and the vampires. Cue Breaking Dawn, where she gives birth to a perfect baby girl immediately before being transformed, becomes a newborn with perfect self-control and almost no bloodlust, remains in contact with her parents, her father aware that she's not human exactly anymore, has a cottage in Forks with Edward (neither show any signs of moving out anytime soon), and neatly avoids any Jacob or werewolf-related trauma when Jacob imprints on her daughter, making everything quickly resolve itself. Go figure.
- At the start of The Trials of Apollo, Meg gains the former god Apollo as a servant, and is told that if she treats him well, he'll reward her upon his return to godhood. When he does after a few months of traveling and growing together, he realizes that if he rewarded her for her good behavior, it would cheapen their friendship into a transaction (relevant to both of them, because Meg's abusive stepfather alternated soul-crushing punishments with lavish rewards, and Apollo's relationship with the Sybil of Cumae soured when he granted her immortality and demanded her services as oracle in return). Meg agrees, but shyly asks if it's too much to ask for a unicorn. Apollo gives her one, as a gift between friends rather than payment.
- CSI 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 Ep 2, "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.
- In Season Five's "Immaculate Concépcion," Maxwell's father dies, and, to everyone's shock, leaves the entirety of his massive estate to Concépcion, a secret love child. As the Sheffield siblings try to contest the will, Fran decides (at her mother's urging) to speak with Concépcion herself and try to convince her to give the money back. When she goes, though, she discovers that Concépcion is a pleasant young woman who has struggled with poverty and feeling lost all her life—something Fran knows all too well. Unable to take away her new sister-in-law's happiness, Fran instead invites her to her upcoming wedding to Mr. Sheffield and treats her like an equal...which turns out to be the perfect course of action. Concépcion is so grateful to Fran for welcoming her into the family—which is what she truly wanted all along—that she decides to split the fortune with her new half-siblings, as she now feels like part of the group.
- 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 a 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.
- Or it was all Dying Dream Picard was suffering before Dr. Crusher could revive him and it never really happened. One of the novels written about the series has Q cryptically telling Picard that it was both a Dying Dream and something that actually happened.
- 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 seize 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.
- In another episode, Count Von Count reads a poem about a Countess who lived in the woods. In the poem, the Countess attempts to count socks, bagels and lox, and tissues, but each time she is interrupted by animals who need the things she's trying to count. Being kind-hearted, she willingly gives the things away but is saddened when she realizes that she has nothing left to count. Happily, her kindness is rewarded when all the animals thank her by allowing her to count them.
- 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. In 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.
- In one episode, Amy is left on an alien planet, dodging medical robots that will kill her unintentionally, until Rory and the Doctor can come and save her. Because of time travel, they find both her present-day self and her future self, who was abandoned for years and became a rather cynical badass as a result. Throughout the episode, the Doctor insists that both Amys can't be saved and Rory agonizes over which one to rescue since he loves both and both love him in return. Finally, the Doctor figures out a way to rearrange the TARDIS so that both Amys can be saved. And then it's horribly, horribly subverted when it turns out the Doctor was lying so he could trick Rory and the present-day Amy to go in the TARDIS and let him lock the future Amy out. Everyone's upset about this, but it's just impossible to save both. The future Amy ends up accepting this and lets the medical robots kill her, as she remembers Rory.
- This is a huge problem on Full House, especially in later seasons when the writers began focusing on Michelle. But the seeds were there from the beginning:
- In one Season 2 episode, the main cast ends up stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve, and their airline loses the luggage containing the girls' presents. Everyone complains about this, but Jesse inspires everyone to change their minds by pointing out that Christmas is based on feelings, not material things...and then he starts comparing the items in the airport to material things (a vending machine becomes a Christmas dinner, for example). To make matters worse, the next day, the real Santa Claus shows up and uses his magic to make the lost luggage appear, so the girls get their gifts anyway.
- A similar treatment became even worse later in the show: Jesse notices that Stephanie and Michelle are being especially greedy one Christmas season, so he promises them a great gift. The gift turns out to be their spending time volunteering at a local homeless shelter, so they can get an idea of how lucky they are. Unfortunately, not only do the girls still get a good pile of presents, we never see them volunteering — they just come home and talk about what an eye-opening experience it was. That's all kinds of wrong.
- In "The Day of the Rhino," Michelle sends away for a toy advertised by Rigby the Rhino, a Barney Expy. When the toy turns out to be much smaller than advertised, she, her friend Denise, Joey, and Stephanie all travel to the mall during a Rigby performance and angrily protest. It seems as though they're unsuccessful, but Joey encourages Michelle to take heart: she may have been ripped off, but her good deed has kept other children from making the same mistake. Seconds later, the doorbell rings — it's Rigby, and he's so touched by Michelle's protests that he's decided to give everyone who ordered a toy a free large doll, starting with her.
- Scrubs has an episode where Carla demands that Turk demonstrates he truly knows her as a person before they can have sex again. Turk gets Carla a pen as a presentnote but gets it from what he thinks is the lost and found. He finds out afterward that it had been extracted from a patient's hindquarters. Carla is thrilled with the gift and Turk has to face the choice of telling her the truth or having sex. He chooses to tell the truth. Carla is initially furious but then realises that in coming clean, he did prove the strength of their relationship. She realises this in about ten seconds and is heard calling for him to join her in the bedroom.
- An episode of That's So Raven has Corey's band deciding to get a singer. Corey chooses a pretty girl with a horrible voice because he's so attracted to her he doesn't realise how awful she sings. He has to face the reality of either letting the band perform with her or else telling her she's awful and hurting her feelings. He decides that he's going to tell her, but luckily she gets cold feet and says she's too nervous to sing - so they get her to lipsynch while Corey's mother (who has a much better voice) sings behind the stage.
- One episode of Family Matters sees Carl passed up for a promotion to Police Captain in favor of the commissioner's son. Carl is understandably upset about the loss but does his best to remain professional, especially since the new captain is a nice, if indecisive, guy. Things get tense when a major gang war is in danger of breaking out, and the captain can't decide what to do. He sincerely begs Carl for help, and though he's briefly tempted to let his rival fail, he ultimately realizes that the innocent lives at stake are more important than his envy, and develops a plan which averts the fight. When the commissioner shows up and praises his son for a job well done, Carl remains quiet rather than complain, which ends up being the right choice, as the captain admits that Carl was the one who solved the problem and deserves the leadership role more than he does. It also turns out for the best for him — he actually preferred his old job and never wanted to be captain in the first place. The commissioner, impressed by the whole situation and with a newfound respect for Carl, promotes him to captain and restores his son to his previous position, while the younger men remain friends and colleagues.
- 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
- 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.
- Another example featuring Solomon is so well-known that it's become known as the "Judgment of Solomon". Two women who have recently given birth appear before the king, explaining that during the night, one of the mothers rolled over on her child and smothered him to death. Each woman claims that the living infant is hers, and the dead one the other woman's. Solomon announces that, because the truth cannot be determined, he will cut the child in half and let each woman have a piece. One agrees, but the other instead tells the king to give the whole infant to her rival, rather than see him killed. Solomon thus announces that the mother who was willing to give up her child to another woman is the true mother, as only she would rather suffer the pain of losing the child than have him be murdered.
- This trope is thoroughly deconstructed in "The Parable of the Beggar and the Diamond," a Hindu myth. One day, Parvati, wife of the god Shiva, becomes distressed when she sees an old beggar named Ramu being tormented by children on the streets; Ramu becomes so distressed that he curses his fate. Parvati begs Shiva to aid Ramu, and he does so by summoning a gigantic diamond—big enough to ensure the man's wealth for generations — and dropping it into his path. However, by this point, Ramu has had some time to reconsider his rash prayer and begins listing all of the things that aren't wrong with him—for instance, he still has his sight. To appreciate that gift, he shuts his eyes and walks for a little while...moving right past the giant diamond. Ramu then opens his eyes and praises the gods for his ability to see, then continues on his merry way; Shiva puts the diamond back where it came from and instead places a sturdy stick in Ramu's path, knowing that he'll find it.
- 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 make it 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."
- Sami Zayn's quest for the NXT Championship and his reputation as the guy who's incapable of winning "the big one" come to a head in his feud with long time friend Adrian Neville. Zayn's unwavering stance on doing things the honest way earned him criticism from the champion, Neville, who never outright cheated, but showed he was willing to cut corners to retain the belt when pushed to the brink even if doing so risked compromising his friendship with Zayn. Neville cited his friend's kindness and lack of a killer instinct as reasons he would never win when it mattered. These words lit a fire under Zayn, who put his career on the line and slapped Neville in anger, finally done with being the nice guy that always has to show respect. During the championship match, the referee gets knocked out and Zayn is left with the perfect opportunity to smash Neville's face in with the championship belt for an easy win. This is Zayn's chance to not only prove he can win the big one but to also prove he isn't "too nice" to be champion. Zayn is conflicted, but ultimately decides against using the belt...and then wins the match clean. In doing so, Zayn keeps his career and his friendship with Neville, wins the big one, and above all, stays true to himself.
- A minor example in Les Misérables: for almost as long as she's onstage, Eponine is constantly pining after Marius, but he just doesn't see her. She eventually gives up the chase in "On My Own", saying that "she knows that he is blind", and that while she won't stop loving him, she knows that he'll never love her and admits defeat. A few songs later, in "Little Fall of Rain", she finally has Marius hold her in his arms after she tells him how she feels. Unfortunately, she's just been shot, and is slowly bleeding out.
- "Prologue" has Valjean try again and again to become an honest man, only to have no one trust him because he's been in jail for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He eventually gives up being an honest man and steals the Bishop's silver, only to have the Bishop give him the silver candlesticks in addition to what he stole so that he can sell them and start a new life.
- And again: Valjean spends the entire show running from Javert. In "Javert's Suicide", Valjean promises to turn himself in if Javert will let him take Marius to safety. Immediately afterwards, however, Javert kills himself, and Valjean is presumably allowed to go free.
- In Hamilton, the eponymous Hamilton's decisive and bold strokes to establish America's economy are constantly blocked by the Democratic-Republicans, led by Jefferson and Madison. In "The Room Where It Happens", he gives up on those and begins trying Burr's approach of waiting, listening, and compromising, and is surprised to learn that his bold strokes go over just fine when he's willing to give something up in return.
- 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 more ADAM, 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, 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.)
- Riku of the Kingdom Hearts franchise gets this in his character arc. In the prequel, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, he is chosen by Terra from the beginning, when he and Sora are much younger, and before Kairi joined the islands, to wield the Keyblade to alleviate his boredom from always being on the same islands and visit other worlds. However, come Kingdom Hearts, he loses it upon becoming one with the darkness and so the Keyblade chooses Sora instead. The rest of the game has Riku aligning with Maleficent, being tricked into thinking Sora replaced him and Kairi for Donald and Goofy, and berating Sora for his failure to protect Kairi. He briefly gets the Keyblade at Hollow Bastion, but upon being defeated and Sora getting the Keyblade back, Riku becomes desperate for power to the point of allowing Ansem to take over his body. When Kairi regains her heart and Sora loses his, Riku makes a HeelFace Turn and finally breaks free in time to close the door to Kingdom Hearts. From there, he spends Castle Oblivion fighting off the darkness in his heart and stops trying to have the Keyblade. Finally, come Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, not only is he acknowledged as a Keyblade Wielder but after finally rescuing Sora, is chosen over him to become a Keyblade Master, the highest rank.
- Lost Odyssey plays Who Wants to Live Forever? very hard for its immortal characters, but by the end of the game, they've mostly decided to embrace their eternal lives rather than angst about it.
- Planescape: Torment: A minor example is a portal that only opens to an entrant who has no desire to enter it.
- 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, washes 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.
- When Derek first uses the Healing Touch, his boss warns him not to use it at all - it takes a great toll on the mind and there's the risk of becoming reliant on it. So refusing to use it unless it's critically important is the best solution, and it's that realization that gives Derek the power back. There are plenty of doctors in the game's world that get by just fine without the Healing Touch, but when you need it, you need it.
- In Digimon Rearise, one game of the Digimon franchise, Herrismon, the main character's partner, did not evolve even as all the other partner Digimon managed to evolve. This distressed him greatly, but eventually, he finally realized that getting stronger by evolving as quickly as possible was not the important thing and that always being there to help his allies was more important, so he wasn't really bothered anymore by not having his evolution. As a result of finally realizing this, Laser-Guided Karma gave him his evolution.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Hilda tries to steal Hyrule's Triforce to replace Lorule's Triforce, which was destroyed, leaving Lorule doomed. She's eventually convinced what she's doing is wrong, and she allows Link and Zelda to return to Hyrule with the Triforce. Link and Zelda immediately use it to restore Lorule's Triforce.
- Antonio Vasquez in Havenfall Is for Lovers starts off his route by essentially abducting the heroine, planning to use the magical properties of her blood to bring back his long-dead sister Evangelina. Since this would require all of the heroine's blood and thus her death, he grows conflicted about his plan as he and the heroine grow closer, and at the end of his first season, he decides he can't go through with it. In his fourth season, it's revealed that Frankenstein has brought Evangelina back to life on his own and the siblings are reunited after all.
- In the RWBY episode "Pomp and Circumstance", Team RWBY, Jaune, Nora and Ren are finally made official Hunters and Huntresses. While the gang is happy about this, Weiss, Blake, and Yang point out that after all they've been through, it doesn't have the same gravity it would have.
- In The Order of the Stick when Miko Miyazaki was introduced, Roy fell for her and tried flirting, only to get ignored. Then came a situation where Roy was forced to wear a Belt of Gender Bending; after he's restored to manhood, he told Miko that he'd gained valuable insight from the experience, and wouldn't needlessly hit on her anymore. Miko comments positively on his additional growth and thus that she might be open to a relationship down the line. Only for Roy to explain what he meant: that being able to look at Miko objectively (rather than thinking with his "Trouser Titan") let him realize what an unpleasant individual she is and thus, he's no longer interested in her at all. However, he does get more respect from the rest of the Order and later on, does end up in a good relationship with Celia, a sylph lawyer.
- Tarquin has this mentality with regards to the idea of ruling an evil empire. Though he considers the notion of one day being overthrown by a lone rebel hero to be almost an inevitability, he accepts that, regardless of all else, he'll at least have had a great run-up to that point. As well as this, if his eventual deposition is sufficiently dramatic, then his legacy would be carried on in stories and song for generations afterwards, too.
Tarquin: If someone conquers an empire and rules it with an iron fist for thirty long years, and then some paladin breaks into his throne room and kills him—what do you think he's going to remember as he lays dying?
Elan: ...That good triumphed over evil?
Tarquin: No, that he got to live like a god for three decades! Sure, the last ten minutes sucked, but you can't have everything.
Elan: But in the end-
Tarquin: The end of what, Son? The story? There is no end, there's just the point where the storytellers stop talking. Somewhere between "villain of the week" and "good triumphs over evil," there's a sweet spot where guys like me get to rule the roost for years. As long as I go into this accepting the price I may eventually pay, then I win — no matter what actually happens.
- Tarquin has this mentality with regards to the idea of ruling an evil empire. Though he considers the notion of one day being overthrown by a lone rebel hero to be almost an inevitability, he accepts that, regardless of all else, he'll at least have had a great run-up to that point. As well as this, if his eventual deposition is sufficiently dramatic, then his legacy would be carried on in stories and song for generations afterwards, too.
- Discussed Trope on Questionable Content when Steve is trying to find a girl who said she might date him but didn't leave her name or number.
- In General Protection Fault, Justin Barker was a student at a military academy while his older brother Jason was a slacker college student with a drinking problem. When the UGA decided to kidnap Justin to test him as a potential agent, they accidentally got Jason instead, and even more incredibly, Jason passed with flying colors, so the UGA decided not to rectify the mistake. Justin didn't take it well, and resented his brother for years. Fortunately, after talking with Fooker's friends, Justin reconciled with his brother, and eventually, Fooker managed to arrange for him to take his place in the UGA, since Fooker wanted to go back to his job, his friends and his girlfriend, making this a case in which both parties get what they want.
- 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. However, giving up on attachment is not actually the same thing as giving up on his actual feelings themselves so part of this was Poor Communication Kills.
- Big City Greens: In the climax of "Green Christmas", Cricket realizes all those disasters were indeed no one's fault but his, and has no doubt he'll never get any presents from Santa. After pouring out his troubles to the real Santa on a bench, Santa offers Cricket a magical gift which can be any present he wants; Cricket refuses the gift, instead wishing for Tilly to be back on the nice list, because he discovered the only thing he wanted for Christmas didn't come in a box. On Christmas Day though, not only was Tilly back on the nice list, he was as well, as confirmed by Tilly discovering a present with Cricket's name, because of his selfless act of putting Tilly's needs before his which truly considered him nice.
- 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.
- The Simpsons: In "Lisa's First Word", Homer tries to get Maggie to talk, but his attempts fail miserably. After he decides that he would be better off if Maggie didn't talk (mainly so she doesn't backtalk to him) and leaves Maggie alone in her room, she says her first word: "Daddy."
- In "King Of The Hill", when Homer realizes his father let him down by lying about his own attempt at climbing Mount Murderhorn, Homer thinks he's let Bart down himself, so he decides to give up on climbing the mountain. Taking the flag out, he takes the Powersauce banner off and replaces it with the "Simpson" flag from the church picnic earlier in the episode, saying "It's not the top, but it's as close as a Simpson's gonna get.", and hammers it in. However, this causes a landslide bringing down the top of the mountain, thereby making where he's standing the top.
- 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.
- An episode has the Ashleys entering Spinelli into a Beauty Contest. In order to turn their prank back on them, she decides to get a makeover and actually try and win the contest. When it comes to the finals, she realises that she's not being true to herself and ignores the judges-pleasing speech she had prepared - forfeiting the contest. But then the judges declare her the winner because she was true to herself.
- Gretchen decides to earn money to buy a new bike by tutoring the other kids. It essentially turns into her doing their homework for them in exchange for money - in a vain hope that they'll actually study it afterwards. They end up in detention when actually challenged with a test that Gretchen can't help them on. Gretchen decides not to buy the bike and gives each kid back their money - as well as legitimately tutoring them this time. Their grades go up, and Gretchen discovers that they all pitched in to buy her the bike as thanks.
- 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◊, along with the reply, "Why didn't you just say so in the first place?" Played with later on when they regret attending the Grand Galloping Gala since it wasn't like what they thought it would be.
- 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 need 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.
- In "Crusaders of the Lost Mark," the Cutie Mark Crusaders help Diamond Tiara make a HeelFace Turn and discover the true meaning of her special talent (the crown means being a true leader, not a stuck-up Rich Bitch), and also help Pipsqueak win the student council election at the same time. Seeing the two of them work together to do a lot of good for the school and the other kids, the Crusaders decide that what they really want to do is help others learn the meaning of their talents like they did for Diamond Tiara. Scootaloo exclaims that she doesn't care if she never gets her cutie mark so long as she can keep being with her friends and doing things like they did today, and the other two wholeheartedly agree. Cue the trio finally getting their cutie marks, in that of helping others finding their meanings in life.
- In "Marks for Effort", the Cutie Mark Crusaders want to attend Twilight Sparkle's School of Friendship but are turned away because they already know so much about friendship. They later meet a struggling student named Cozy Glow and offer to help her study for an upcoming friendship test. However, when Cozy flunks, Twilight believes the CMC intentionally set Cozy Glow up to fail in revenge for not being allowed to attend the school and bans from the school grounds. Fortunately, Cozy Glow later admits her mistake; she deliberately failed her test in hopes that it would convince Twilight to let the CMC be students like they wanted, and Twilight allows them to come back to the school not as students but as official friendship tutors.
- In "A Horse Shoe-In", Starlight Glimmer is named the new headmare of the School of Friendship by Twilight, who is preparing to take over from Celestia and Luna in ruling Equestria. She decides to hire a vice-headmare to help her out since it will be a big job. Trixie, believing Starlight created the position for her so they can hang out more as friends, is fully convinced she's going to get the job, despite Starlight's insistence on conducting an interview process. Despite Trixie repeatedly proving to be an unfit vice-headmare, Starlight can't bring herself to drop her from the interview process due to wanting to work with a friend so much. Later on, Trixie teleports a portion of Froggy Bottom Bog into the school, unaware that it had a hive of flash bees in it, endangering the students and creating a mess in the classroom. After Starlight blows up at her for her actions, Twilight helps her realize that hiring someone for a job is about who's most qualified regardless if they're a friend or not. In the end, Trixie doesn't get the spot of vice-headmare as she hoped but because of her good qualities, such as her concern for the students' wellbeing and giving good advice, she is offered Starlight's old position of Guidance Counselor, while Sunburst becomes Starlights vice-headmare. So all three ponies still get to work together as friends.
- 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.
- In Over the Garden Wall, the Woodsman has been chopping down Edelwood trees to fuel the Beast's lantern, in order to preserve the soul of his daughter that is kept inside it. In the end, he discovers that the trees were not only formed from the people that the beast had trapped in the forest like his daughter, but the lantern actually contains the Beast's soul. The Woodsman subsequently extinguishes the lantern and kills the Beast, fully believing his daughter was already dead. In the epilogue, he returns home only to find his daughter alive and well, with the implication that she had never gotten lost in the forest at all, and the Beast had simply tricked the Woodsman to trap him in the forest.
- A heartwarming example happens in Doug. He enters a contest that lured him in with a sweet grand prize, but every round requires an increasingly large amount of money to continue, to the point where he almost spends his college savings bond on it. While this is going on, he's also involved in an unrelated art contest where he's making a sculpture of his dog Porkchop, but he's primarily focused on the first contest even though it's obviously a scam. Eventually, he gives up and is bummed out about it, but then he receives a letter in the mail saying his sculpture came in third place in the art contest, which confuses him since he had forgotten all about it. His sister Judy reveals that she submitted the sculpture for him and reminds him not to lose sight of his talents.
- Wander over Yonder: The episode "The Time Bomb" has Wander and Sylvia compete in a race and the former has to help the latter control her Unstoppable Rage. She ends up getting second, but she does not care about winning anymore because she managed to control herself and it's the thought that counts. But then the winners are disqualified for cheating, giving her the victory by default.
- Children. Couples who are desperate to conceive may fail to because the stress impairs the functions. Once they stop obsessing, a welcome pregnancy can come along.
- 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 whether or not you're in a relationship and learn to be happy with yourself as a single person, you come off as confident and self-possessed, which is attractive.
- The same can be said for friendship and being liked. Some people try way too hard to be cool or likeable, which makes them come off as a Totally Radical poser who reeks of low confidence and either drives people away or attracts insults and bullies. These same people will find that, by just chilling out and not caring if they impress others or not, people are a lot more attracted to them as they're more fun and pleasant to be around. "Be Yourself" is a lesson hammered into our heads for a reason, after all.
- Most cases of Magnum Opus Dissonance — given up trying to write that bestseller? Cue writing a bestseller!
- 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 second place and all but guaranteed to advance to the medal round, he noticed that the Singapore team had capsized, were injured, and the crew was in serious danger of drowning. Deciding that winning a medal was not worth letting people die, Lemieux turned back to save the Singapore team, even waiting until rescue workers arrived before rejoining the race, and Lemieux came in dead last. However, since the world saw this act of selflessness, the International Yacht Racing Union unanimously voted to officially award Lemieux with second place anyways. In the end, Lemieux didn't get a medal for a top-three place in the medal round... but he was 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 Medal (the second highest possible civilian award 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 competition after the short program. Knowing she was supposedly out of the running for the gold medal (though she could still have easily won the silver or bronze) she seemed to relax and just enjoy her long program routine (which was practically flawless). The leading three made mistakes in the last round, leaving Sarah to collect the gold. Four years earlier, something similar happened to Tara Lipinski, who was in second place after the short program. Without the same intense pressure on her to win the gold as it was on teammate Michelle Kwan, she skated the performance of her life and pulled off a stunning upset.
- Sometimes it's easier to find a good movie or television show on accident, rather than spend hours searching for one on streaming services or in stores.