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Wanting Is Better Than Having

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"And don't forget the presents. How... How full of potential they seem in all that paper, how pregnant with possibilities... and then you open them and basically the wrapping paper was more interesting and you have to say 'How thoughtful, that will come in handy!'"

Wanting Is Better Than Having is one of the Stock Aesops, which teaches that one's desire and anticipation for something is often better than the actual result. After all, desires and expectations are infinitely boundless, whereas the reality is confined by various flaws and limitations — which were overlooked during the expectant daydreaming.

Usually appears at the end of a story after a character has been wildly pursuing something. When he or she eventually gets the object of their desire, it seems it fails to live up to the unrealistic demands they've built up in their mind.

As An Aesop, it serves as a reminder that part of life is the struggle, and that's what keeps you going. If you had everything you wanted, you would have nothing to shoot for. And besides - getting what you want isn't always that good for you.

A Wish-Fulfillment trope and a milder, non-magical form of Be Careful What You Wish For. Also see All That Glitters. May overlap with Lonely at the Top, Popularity Cycle, Vengeance Feels Empty, And Then What?, Victory Is Boring. A work-specific subtrope of this is Disappointing Promotion.

For a similar Aesop, see It's the Journey That Counts, which shares many a lesson with this trope.

Compare with Forbidden Fruit, where the wanting part comes from not being allowed to have.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • In Death Note, Light gets all he ever dreamed of midway through the series. L is dead, so all Light needs to do is slowly develop his shiny new world and fit himself for his new hat. Unfortunately, Victory Is Boring—so boring that when Mello and Near eventually show up to give him a really bad time, he's overjoyed!
  • In Dragon Ball, Master Roshi battles his pupils in the Tenkaichi tournament under the guise of Jackie Chun. He too believes that Victory Is Boring, so he tries to prevent them from winning so that they'll always strive to become stronger rather than rest on their laurels.
  • The ending of xxxHolic. Watanuki is perfectly content to wait forever for Yuuko, even though he knows she likely will never return, and even if she does, almost certainly not as how he knew her. Whether he wants to avoid all the Reality-Breaking Paradox consequences of Clow's wish or prevent the creation of another Ass-Chin or minimize his own impact on the multiverse, or whether CLAMP just wrote another Gainax Ending, we can't really be too sure. Nothing is sensible by this point. If Yuuko could die and move on to "where Clow was", the guy actually has a much better chance of seeing her if he'd stayed mortal and let himself die and pass on himself. Ironically it could be Yuuko's final wish that he continue to live that's the one thing keeping him going.
  • In Bleach, Mayuri Kurotsuchi has this view on the concept of perfection. In the aftermath of his duel with Szayelaporro, who had repeatedly boasted about his "perfection", Mayuri provides his own perspective on what being perfect means: it's boring because once you've reached that pinnacle of perfection — that's it — there's no where you can go from there. He notes that people have an infatuation with perfection, but how hellish it would be to actually reach that state of existence since you would have no room for improvement, growth, or imagination; that life effectively has no purpose in continuing since you've reached the finish line of life where there is nothing more worth doing. Basically wanting perfection is OK, but having it is not an amiable situation.
    • Mayuri is hit with his own lecture when Nemu is killed by Pernida. A hallucination of Szayelaporro appears before him and calls him a hypocrite for hating perfection yet considered Nemu to be his perfect creation. Mayuri realizes what a fool he had been and decides to do what he does best and make a new Nemu using the old Nemu's data.
  • In Millennium Actress, it becomes increasingly clear that Chiyoko's obsession with finding the man who gave her a key stems more from her love of the chase than her love of the actual man.
  • Food Wars!: The trigger behind Koujirou Shinomiya's Face–Heel Turn. Koujirou was a French-trained Japanese chef, who graduated from the world's most prestigious cooking school at the top of his class, and wanted nothing more than to be the first Japanese chef to win the Bocuse D'Or medal (granted annually by the French government to the chef who has done most to advance French cuisine). He succeeded at age 24. With his life's ambition complete at such a young age, he had nothing to strive for, and lacked the maturity to handle directionlessness.
  • Ayakashi Triangle: After Matsuri was turned into a girl, he's most motivated to go back by his assumption he can only date Suzu as a boy—even after Suzu herself says otherwise. But after Matsuri is split into a boy and girl, both are surprised that Suzu's Gender-Bender Friendship had made her more attached to the girl, leaving the boy disappointed.

    Comic Books 
  • The Sandman (1989):
    • "The Hunt" is about a man who falls in love with a woman after seeing her picture in her locket and goes to great lengths to meet her. But when he finally does (and she is indeed every bit as beautiful as the picture made her out to be), he only gives the locket back to her and asks for nothing more. The implication is that he realized that she couldn't possibly live up to all his dreaming about her. Also, he's a werewolf, so that might have something to do with it.
    • Lampshaded by the Sandman himself in the issue based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. He alludes to the deal he made with William Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare misunderstood it:
      Sandman: He didn't understand - mortals never do: the price of getting what you want is having what once you wanted.
    • Dream's sibling, Desire is all about this in a narcissistic way and loves nothing more than baiting others to find out in a sadistic manner.
  • Terry Sloane, the original Mister Terrific, had a backstory like this: He'd succeeded at everything he ever wanted to do, and with no more goals to strive for, his life was meaningless. He was contemplating suicide when he met a woman who was also suicidal for different reasons who convinced him to become a superhero.
  • Emperor Doom: This trope is the basic plotline of the graphic novel. Doctor Doom takes over the world through a worldwide psionic broadcast that brainwashes the whole world into obeying Doom, but found the mundane duties of ruling tedious and was bored by the lack of opposition. When The Avengers finally broke free and challenged him, Doom practically lets them win.
  • Uncle Scrooge ends up subverting this in Don Rosa's "Life and Times" series. When young Scrooge realizes that his mining sluice may have just uncovered a goose-egg sized nugget of gold, he pauses for a second and wonders if what he really wanted was the adventures and experience of his years pursuing wealth. Does he really want to be rich? After considering it, Scrooge shouts YES! and, once confirming his find, celebrates like the happiest duck in the world. He spends the rest of his life seeking ever-greater treasures, not for their monetary value (in fact, he almost never keeps what he obtains), but for the sheer thrill of it all. He's the richest duck in the world... but he can always be richer.
  • In Fables this is a defining trait of Prince Charming (ex-husband to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella); he can genuinely love a woman while courting her, but can't actually maintain a relationship (best exemplified with his second wife; he woke her with "true love's kiss" and married her, but before long he cheated on her and they divorced fairly quickly). While he seems to have learned his lesson with long-term relationships (he doesn't even attempt them any more, and keeps his dalliances short) this trope rears its head again when he becomes Fabletown's mayor; he is able to charm the electorate into a landslide without much difficulty, but gets hit hard with The Chains of Commanding, piles of paperwork and unfulfillable election promises and he bitterly regrets his decision to run for office.

    Fan Works 
  • Said by Grunnel of his and Brox's money in With Strings Attached: “Getting it was more interesting than having it.” Therefore the four can spend as much of it as they like, and Grunnel and Brox are happy to give it all to the Thirders later on. He's an adventure addict, so yeah.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic A Minor Variation, Rainbow Dash becomes fabulously wealthy at a young age from her various design patents and trademarks, but all she really wanted was to design protective equipment that saves lives. So she gives almost all her money to the government, saving only enough for herself and her family to live comfortably on, and continues to pursue her real dream. It comes to no surprise that she becomes the Element of Generosity later.
  • Connecting the Dots: The Spectre tells Naruto this about his dream to be Hokage since Naruto can't answer what he'd do if he did.
    "Sometimes, it's better to reach for a goal rather than achieve it."
  • There are some Pokemon fan works that deal with this topic, for example: Triumph by Existential Insanity, where Ash wins the Unova League and later goes on to defeat Cynthia and becomes Number One, but realizes his journey was far better than his victory.
    "Now where can I go? I am at the pinnacle to wait for another to push me off? Where is the triumph in that? Where is the journey? There is nothing at the top. World's Strongest. That's what I am. But what will I be?"
  • Regretting getting what one wants happens multiple times in KCS' Sherlock Holmes fanfic:
    • 221B: "Breathed" starts with Holmes grumbling about how no criminal has taken advantage of the fog to do anything interesting. He comes back from a trip to the tobacconist to find one of the crooks he sent to jail on the verge of shooting Watson, and says that he'll never gripe about the fog again.
    • Agreement and Disputation: Holmes rues complaining so much about his boredom when the next day, Mrs. Hudson makes a sauce with some poisonous mushrooms he forgot to label as such.
    • A Study In Situations: Watson jokingly asks Holmes what he wants for Christmas, and the detective, who is a major Scrooge, grouchily answers that he wants either quiet or a murder to occupy his mind. He regrets saying that when a counterfeiting case puts Watson in the hospital.
  • Harry Potter and the Natural 20: Milo, a D&D wizard from another world, gets a taste of this when gazing into the Mirror of Erised. He sees himself at the logical culmination of his career: maxed out in every level, infinite stats, every feat, spell and class feature taken, sitting on a mountain of treasure, artifacts and loot (including the entire multiverse in a bag... and utterly, hopelessly bored from the lack of any possible challenge. No wonder his reaction is to scream in horror.

    Films — Animated 
  • Megamind: While initially Megamind enjoys the ability to do anything he wants after defeating Metro Man (most of his "rampaging" being Poke the Poodle level antics), he gradually becomes bored and depressed over the pointlessness of his life.
  • Renee Fromage from Animalympics gets a trippy and rather sad musical number devoted to this, where he imagines all the good things in life he's given up in pursuit of the Animalympic medal and ends up alone and lost when he finally gets it.
  • Subverted in the end of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. When SpongeBob is offered the position of manager, he politely begins to say something first. Squidward suggests he didn't want the position at all and the journey to Shell City was the real reward. SpongeBob denies that, what he really wanted to say is "Your fly is down," and happily accepts the job.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Superman II, three Kryptonian criminals violently take over Earth, only to be seen later all sitting around, bored. When Ursa tries to be encouraging by saying, "You're master of all you survey," General Zod sort of shrugs and replies (in a very bored tone), "So I was yesterday. And the day before..." It's only the thought of fighting Superman that finally puts a spark back in the villain's eyes.
  • In Perfume, the Villain Protagonist spends most of the film creating the perfect perfume. Once he uses it, he decides that it doesn't really give him what he wants after all.
  • In City Slickers, the tough old trailboss Curly tells his dude-ranch clients about a beautiful girl he once met, but just rode away from rather than speaking to her, because he knew he was horrible husband material. When a client comments that she could have been the love of his life, Curly smiles and says "she is".
  • Problem Child 3 focuses on Junior trying to get the attention of a girl and having to deal with three very snooty suitors. After finally besting them, he takes his chance to get to know the girl..and she's a total control freak and snob. He quickly breaks off with her, but luckily meets a much nicer girl not long after.
  • Joe Dirt: Much of the film's focus is on Joe trying to find his parents who abandoned him. He finally does with the help of the fame he accumulates through the radio talk show he was on, only to find out that they're horrible people and just trying to ride on his fame.
  • One of the motifs of Boardwalk Empire. Season 2 opens to the tune of the song "After you get what you want (you don't want it)" and Nucky acknowledges it as a factor behind his unquenched thirst. His yearnings are only good for him while they remain unfulfilled.
    Nucky: I recall that I was once [alive, before Prohibition] Till then, I was a simple, run-of-the-mill crook... a corrupt city official. And I was happy. Plenty of money, plenty of friends, plenty of everything. Then suddenly, plenty wasn't enough.

  • Don Quixote:
  • Jack Cohen's book The Privileged Ape was originally intended to be called The Ape Who Got What He Wanted with the implication that when he got it, he didn't want it anymore.
  • Anne of Green Gables: Anne tries to explain this philosophy to her foster mother Marilla, who doesn't get the point of flights of fancy and anticipation.
  • James Branch Cabell's novels are full of this trope, but the eponymous protagonist of Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice learns it so hard that he walks up to his true love's bed, lifts the cover, and leaves her sleeping. He is, after all, a Monstrous Clever Fellow.
  • In The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid wishes to be a human and marry the prince. Because she gave up her mermaid life and became a human not being able to ever speak again and feel pain when she walked and danced and the possibility that she will die, it seems it would have been better for her to keep wanting instead of getting it.
  • In the French fairy tale An Impossible Enchantment, the king wants to marry the beautiful but silent Princess Mutinosa after he sees her hunting in the woods with a horde of fierce animals. Everyone at her palace (including her parents) make sure that the visiting king never hears her speak. After the king marries Mutinosa, he finds out that she has a horrible temper and verbally abuses everyone around her. The king manages to be rid of her after she insults an old woman who was really a fairy and becomes her slave. Once their daughter comes back when she is an adult, Mutinosa is revealed to have died. (The original version of the story expanded on her death saying that it was trying to repress her bad temper that caused it.)
  • The Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis: Deconstructed; one character gives voice to the sentiment that "It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive," as this trope claims. His companion (the one whose views on the question agree with Lewis's own) responds that a rational person who really believed that the destination isn't as good as the journey would no longer be hoping to arrive at the destination—and thus, would no longer be "traveling hopefully." The same argument is made in The Great Divorce.
  • Battle Circle, Piers Anthony's post-apocalyptic trilogy, is made of this trope. No one ever seems to get what they (used to) want, except in the worst possible/least satisfying way. Overused to the point of a Broken Aesop ("Desire only and always leads to disappointment"), unless you're a Buddhist.
  • In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Santiago spends a while working for a crystal merchant, whose lifelong dream had been to earn enough money for a pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time Santiago leaves him, the merchant has more than enough money, but has realized that he will never make the pilgrimage; it's the dream of it that gives his life purpose, and he's worried that a real pilgrimage wouldn't measure up to his imagined one.
  • Shel Silverstein 's The Missing Piece has a circle looking for its missing piece, but when it finds it the other stuff the circle enjoyed were lost.
  • In Pretty Little Liars Hanna had a crush on Sean Ackard in seventh grade, fast forward four years and they are dating, Hanna wants to have sex with him and he just joined a Virginity Club and refuses to break his vow to have sex before marriage. After they break up this is how she sees it.
  • In the Star Trek novel Spock's World, a sequel to "Amok Time", this was ultimately proven true. T'Pring spent all her time brooding about how things had not gone according to plan, and Stonn grew jealous. He artificially induced plak tow to make their bond real and died in the process.
  • Occurs in The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! The Pigeon spends most of the book obsessing about getting a puppy, only to discover it's a lot bigger and messier than he had expected.
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle:
    • The cure for children who want to stay up all night is just to let them. The children end up discovering that it's annoying to be tired all the time during the day, and then when they fall asleep at a birthday party, that's the last straw.
    • Similarly, in Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, which features Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's great-niece Missy Piggle-Wiggle, the Just-One-More-Minute Cure for Samantha Tickle is to simply state that something is about to happen and that there aren't going to be any further reminders, and then stick with that. Well, that and Missy Piggle-Wiggle sending her snarky talking parrot Penelope over to be Samantha's babysitter, as she's going to be spending a lot of time alone. The cure finally works when Samantha's parents have to go to eat out due to the kitchen being a disaster because of Samantha not doing her chores. Samantha is left behind and first fixes herself pasta with vegetables, then scrubs, washes and dries the entire kitchen top-to-bottom.
    This is how Samantha knew she was growing up: She didn't cry. She didn't accuse her parents of torturing her or abandoning her. She simply said. "All right. I'll make my own dinner." ... ... When Edison and Trillium returned two hours later, they found a clean house, the dishwasher humming, and Samantha finishing her homework while Penelope dozed on her perch.
  • In the Clémentine books, thanks to her good imagination, Clementine sort of realizes this. In every family meeting, she asks her parents for a gorilla. In Clementine and the family Meeting, she gets excited when she thinks that they actually are buying her one. However, after she finds out that they aren't, she admits in her narration that she's actually somewhat relieved because ever since she got a pet cat, she's realized just how much trouble it would be to clean out the giant litterbox of a gorilla.
  • Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories: After eating every single one of the pillberries on the bush, Gertrude has grown herself a gigantic, magnificent tail — only to discover that it's too big for her to fly or even move from the spot. Luckily, her Uncle Dake hears her distress and brings help.
  • In Night World Gillian spends a lot of the fourth novel re-inventing herself into a cool and confident girl, getting the guy of her dreams and integrating herself with the in-crowd. However, she finds that actually being popular at her school isn't all it's cracked up to be; most of them are shallow, two-faced Fair Weather Friends who spread rumours about each other behind their backs and are willing to turn on each other when it suits them, and to keep yourself on top you have to 'play the game' and be manipulative and spiteful too. While Gillian does become more confident and mature in the process, she eventually realizes she doesn't even like most of the popular kids or care what they think of her.
  • Gone Girl: Nick admits that he loses interest in Andie almost immediately when Tanner tells him he has to end it, because he's never been more obsessed with Amy than when she is no longer around and he can project whatever he wants onto her.
  • Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: An alternate version of T'Pring, who has significantly more empathy than her main universe counterpart, says as much to her boss when she 'accidentally' loses an advanced piece of alien tech (which had accidentally shunted their ship across universes, leading to a meeting with Spock). He doesn't get what she means - namely, the tech's far more trouble than it's worth.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: For a long time, Faith is so envious of Buffy's "perfect life" (loving family, lots of friends, perfect boyfriend, lots of popular and praise, etc) that she can hardly stand it. When she finally gets a chance to swap bodies with her and live Buffy's life in "Who Are You?", however, she is clearly uncomfortable with the amount of love, trust, and kindness she receives from everyone, and has a minor Freak Out after having slow and loving sex with Buffy's boyfriend. It clearly dawns on her that even if she had the "perfect" life and family she always wanted, she's too damaged to know what to do with it. Notably, when Buffy-in-Faith's-body comes back for her own body, Faith doesn't put up as much of a fight as one would expect, and after Buffy manages the switcharoo Faith runs off, and Buffy rightly guesses that they won't have to worry about her for a while. From then on, Faith is noticeably less consumed with envy over Buffy.
  • My Name Is Earl: when Earl was in a coma he dreamed of being married to Billie (Alyssa Milano) and it was awesome! Then he recovered and actually married her, and it was... not awesome.
  • In season 4 of NewsRadio, Lisa is desperate to learn Jimmy's "secret of management". Dave accurately points out that she doesn't want to know.
  • Jerry and George from Seinfeld are both famous for doing everything they can to keep women they were dating from breaking up with them. However, they were both too shallow and immature to actually commit to women they wanted to be with and they almost always ended their relationships for petty reasons.
  • Spock to Stonn in the Star Trek episode "Amok Time", regarding the beautiful but conniving T'Pring:
    "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical... but it is often true."
    • The irony is that it actually is logical—T'Pring had, in fact, just finished displaying the coldly logical difference between having and wanting as her means to get Stonn. Spock's warning to her was far more subtle, that she'd find she screwed herself over as much as she had Spock. And according to at least one source (see Literature, above), he was eventually proven correct.
  • JD in Scrubs is usually only interested in Elliot when she's not in a relationship with him. The fact that he never learns that he only wants what he can't have is frequently pointed out to him. It’s finally subverted in season eight, and the two become an Official Couple after the both of them do a lot of maturing.
  • In Boston Legal, Denny tells Alan that "it's better to want a woman you can't have than to have a woman you don't want."
  • Doctor Mikoto Nakadai from Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger had a similar problem to Mister Terrific. He was naturally good at anything he tried, due to being the host for half of the series' main villain, and spent most of his life bored out of his skull from the lack of challenge. When he found the dangerous prototype Transformation Trinket, he became a supervillain rather than a good guy because it was more fun, and learning that the device will eventually explode only made it more exciting.
  • In Lost, Jack is the character most dead-set on getting off the island, no matter what. The Season 3 finale reveals that after he does leave the island, his life falls apart. On the island, he was a leader and could save others, but once he leaves that behind, he deteriorates into a broken, alcoholic mess. He realizes too late that Locke, who told him not to leave the island, was right all along, and ends up flying nonstop, hoping that he'll crash.
  • Much of Oscar Lomax's plot line in the first season of Psychoville is based around his obsessive quest for a "commodity", Snappy the Crocodile. When he finally acquires it, he chucks it into the ocean, revealing that he had completed his collection on at least one previous occasion, but had found that actually completing his quest left him bereft of purpose and nearly suicidal.
  • In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, one of Dark Mercury's goals is to kill Sailor Moon. When she believes she's succeeded, she goes into a BSOD and reverts back to normal.
    • Also, through most of the show, Kunzite tries to kill Mamoru, but when Mamoru's about to get killed by Jadeite, Kunzite saves him.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, Al Bundy is surprised when he noticed his football hero charisma from his high school days has suddenly returned, when women - including Marcy - start finding him attractive again. Of course, Peggy is upset by this which makes it even sweeter for Al. However, by the end of the episode, he gets bored and depressed. He realizes that it doesn't matter in the end, because he's already married with children. He loses the charisma shortly afterwards and goes back to looking Hollywood Homely.
  • In a Season 1 episode of The Twilight Zone called "A Nice Place to Visit", Henry "Rocky" Valentine is a crook who gets killed by cops in a shootout. In the afterlife, he never has to deal with any failure or frustration, leading him to believe he's gone to Heaven. Eventually, however, he gets bored with having everything he wants handed to him without any struggle, so he expresses a desire to leave Heaven and go to Hell, only to be told that he was in Hell all along.
  • In Freaks and Geeks, Sam Weir spends most of the series pining for cheerleader Cindy Sanders. When he finally does start dating her, he finds that they actually have nothing in common and he breaks up with her.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie has been aggressively pursuing the Waitress throughout the first twelve seasons. When they sleep together at the end of season 12, Charlie realizes it's not everything he had hoped for and goes to Dee's apartment to get away from the Waitress.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: During the Career Day episode, Vice Principal Crubbs reveals to Ned that he actually didn't want to be an educator when he was younger. His dream growing up was to be a police officer in Miami and he actually accomplished it. However, once he was on the job, he was disappointed to learn that it wasn't like how it's portrayed on TV and that officers don't help criminals become better people, just put them in prison. He then decided to get into education so he could help kids grow up to become good people and avoid lives of crime.
  • The Good Place: When the main characters finally get to the real Good Place, they discover that it's not quite as awesome as it's made out to be. Having had all of their needs and desires met for centuries, if not millennia, the residents have been reduced to listless near-zombies just going through the motions.
  • You (2018): The end of Season 2 reveals this to be Joe's problem in a big way. He gets exactly what he wants — a brilliant, beautiful, and even wealthy wife in Love. However, although she really did only do it out of (twisted) love for him, he is both bored and repulsed by her.
  • Shining Time Station: In "Is Anybody There?", Schemer finally gets to host his own radio show from his arcade, as it's something he's wanted for a very long time. However, he goes on unprepared, forgets what he's been asked to announce, and everyone in the station tries to get in on the show. As a result of all of this, Schemer gets a call from the radio station, saying they've pulled him off the air, after which Mr. Conductor tells the children that Schemer finally got what he wanted, only to discover it wasn't the thing for him after all. This episode features two Thomas & Friends episodes; "Thomas Goes Fishing" and "A Scarf For Percy" (see the Western Animation folder for their details), both of which feature the same kind of morals.

  • Barenaked Ladies have a song called "Conventioneers", in which a man describes finally attaining the woman he's been pining for, but once the two have consummated their affair, he realizes their flirtations were the fun part: "Before all the fireworks exploded/our conversations were so loaded (innuendo flying)/Now what can we say?/Have a nice day?/Looks like rain today?" So he leaves, revealing that his wish to never see her again can't come true as the two work together...
    So I'll wait
    Come in late
    It'd be great
    If you transferred out of state!
  • "After The Thrill Is Gone" by The Eagles is about this trope.
  • "Before You Knew Me" by McBusted is about a guy who manages to get the girl of his dreams, only to find that the reality didn't quite live up to those dreams.
  • "After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It", a song from the 1920s by Irving Berlin, exposes the trope perfectly.
  • The last movement of "The Fountain of Lamneth" by Rush, when the narrator finally finds the titular fountain:
    Now at last I fall before
    The Fountain of Lamneth
    I thought I would be singing
    But I'm tired, out of breath
    Many journeys end here
    But the secret's told the same:
    Life is just a candle, and a dream
    Must give it flame
  • Marillion: Nothing Fills the Hole is almost entirely this trope:
    I wanted it til I got it
    Believed in it til I saw it
    I needed it til I had it
    Then I wanted something else
  • Motörhead : "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch." As the title indicates, it is this trope.
  • The Civil Wars - The One That Got Away combines this trope with Break-Up Song. Both ends of the relationship preferred the days where they were friends pining for one another to the days actually spent together.
  • Meat Loaf: "Paradise By the Dashboard Lights" is about a teenager who is so desperate to have sex with his girlfriend that he vows to love her until the end of time. The end of the song reveals that, years later, he's desperately praying for the end of time because he can't stand her any more but doesn't want to break his promise. He's left wondering what he could have achieved with his life if he hadn't ended up stuck with her.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A story arc in Calvin and Hobbes had Calvin sending away cereal box-tops for a motorized propeller beanie. While he restlessly waits the six weeks for the beanie to arrive, Calvin keeps dreaming about how he'll be able to use it to fly around the neighborhood like a helicopter. True to the trope, when the beanie finally comes, it's just a beanie with a propeller, and Calvin kicks it away in frustration. At least it came in a cool box...
  • Throughout Bloom County and Outland, Opus the penguin repeatedly searched for his mother. He eventually finds her, only to discover she was overly controlling and tried to force him to marry a large, repulsive penguin named Eunice.
  • There's a For Better or for Worse strip where Ellie is at the mall with a very young April. April sees a stuffed animal in a toy store and decides she wants it. Ellie takes her out of the store, but she keeps screaming, "Want dat! Want dat!" Ellie eventually gets fed up and goes back to the store to buy the animal. April hugs it and looks very happy . . . until she sees another stuffed animal on the shelf. She throws the first animal onto the floor and says, "Want dat!" about the new one.
  • The moral of this Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip.
    Marigold: And often, the anticipation of a thing is much sweeter than having the thing itself. The sweetest carrot is the one that is just out of reach.

  • This trope is somewhat hinted at by the third (and supposedly most severe) of three Chinese curses, "May you find what you are looking for."

  • There is a sequence in Inherit the Wind wherein defense attorney Henry Drummond discusses the difference between having and wanting, and how the former rarely lives up to the latter. The story is an event from Drummond's childhood, in which as a young boy he asked his parents for an expensive, finely painted hobby-horse he saw in a shop window. His parents, poor farmers barely able to make ends meet, scratched and saved for an entire year to get him the rocking horse... only to see it fall apart from dry rot the first time the boy tried to ride it. Drummond tells the story cheerfully, and points out that its important to preserve your dreams, but its clear that experiencing this trope was Drummond's first step on the road of skeptical cynicism.
  • The two princes in Into the Woods run on this trope. They obsess in the song "Agony" over the princesses they can't have (Cinderella has run away leaving only her shoe and Rapunzel is trapped in a tower), but, upon winning the princesses, they're no longer as attracted to them and immediately cheat on them with a new pair of seemingly unattainable princesses (one prince is afraid of blood and can't get through the brambles to Sleeping Beauty, while the other is afraid of dwarves and can't talk to Snow White). It's all capped off by this exchange, as Cinderella and her Prince break up:
    Cinderella's Prince: I shall always love the maiden who ran away.
    Cinderella: And I, the faraway prince.
  • In Jasper in Deadland, Jasper risks his life multiple times to get Agnes out of Deadland, only for them both to realize that the Living World was worse to them than Deadland as soon as they have a chance to leave.

    Video Games 
  • All of the Bios in Vangers live with a desire of Larvae which lurk under the earth of the worlds. These immortal, ever-moving pheromone generators produce cirt, which is basically dirt drenched in pheromones; originally used for Hive Mind control for insectoid Bios predecessors, Larvae were eventually forgotten and just left there, while their now-aimless pheromones turned out to be a serious Fantastic Drug for Bios. On every inhabited world (thus, excluding deserted Xplo) there is not a single Larvae attuned for resident Bios, which is why specific cirt for that Bios is imported from other worlds, heating up the residents' desire. What can you do? Bring every respectable Larvae for each Bios. How will Bios react? Forget all other meanings of life, sealing shut in their escaves, slobbering all over and over their precious Larvae until they all happily go extinct.
  • Shows up in one of the (non-canon) arcade mode endings in Mortal Kombat 11: When series regular and unrepentant sadistic thug Kano gains control of the Hourglass of Time he initially creates a timeline where he gets everything he wants. He quickly becomes bored and realizes that it's working to obtain things that he actually enjoys rather than the possessions themselves and reboots the timeline to one where he mostly gets what he wants but not always so he will always have something to strive for.

    Visual Novel 

    Web Original 
  • In The Dom Reviews Dominic does an episode of his series Lost in Adaptation, which is where he critiques the changes that might and tend to occur when going from a print medium to a visual, about Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When deciding on whether to use the Mel Stuart Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory or Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the episode splits into two versions where he reviews that respective movie against the book only. When he reviews Willy Wonka he notes they omitted a scene from the book about Wonka building an Indian prince a castle out of chocolate and then it melted the next day. The Dom felt this could have been a cool scene and wishes to have witnessed it in the movie. When the review splits to the alternate review of Charlie, the Dom notes they do include this scene and he finds it stupid, a waste of time, and potentially racist for playing some Indian stereotypes with how the prince acts.
  • This is ultimately the outcome in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Horrible wanted a seat on a villainous council but likewise wanted the affection of a girl he liked and to humiliate his nemesis, Captain Hammer. He manages the former and latter... but at the expense of the girl accidentally dying when a device he was using explode and she was mortally wounded by shrapnel. Even lampshaded in the final song, "Everything You Ever Wanted".
  • DarkMatter2525: In "The War on Christmas", a man is gravely wounded by the heinous attack of being told "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" by a cashier. Years later, the First Amendment had been removed so that this "tyranny" (as Pat Robertson calls it) ended, and that same man is not celebrating Christmas that year because the victim complex the "war" gave him was all that gave his life meaning.

    Western Animation 
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
    • A collector of Powerpuff Girls merchandise freaks out when he realizes his collection is complete and has nothing else to add (Well, almost complete. He ends up going nuts and captures the actual girls.)
    • The Powerpuff Girls Rule! reveals how Mojo Jojo would handle not just beating the girls, but realizing his dream of ruling the world. Turns out making the world a better place is more fun than living there once you finish, so he messed it all up to bring some chaos back into his life.
  • The Simpsons:
    • This is lampshaded by Lisa when Bart is trying to take her glue simply because she has it. Bart denies it, but to prove her point she hands him the glue, which he then says he doesn't want and hands it back to her.
    • In the early episode "Life on the Fast Lane," bowling Lothario Jacques says, "To the most beautiful moment in life... better than a deed, better than a memory, the moment... of anticipation!"
  • In one Kim Possible episode, Bonnie, Kim's long time rival finally achieves her ambition of being their high school's cheerleading captain, after proving herself to be surprisingly competent at the job. However, Bonnie starts having second thoughts after Kim explains to her that with being the cheerleading captain now, she's going to have to continue doing the hard work she had done to gain the position. The next time we see the cheer squad, Kim's back in charge.
  • Recess:
    • In one episode, the kids discover a cool fort to hang out in, only to have it promptly stolen from them by bullies. After spending the whole episode trying to win it back, afterwards they realize that it was more fun trying to take back the fort than actually hanging out in it. They promptly call up the bullies to try and take it back from them.
    • In another, Menlo helps Randall take over the playground as payback for not getting picked for "Battle Tag", only to relent when the other kids let him play at the end. However, despite being offered the chance to play again the next day, Menlo decides the game is too disorganized for him and he prefers working in the school office.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • In the third episode of "Ticket Master", the ponies all look forward to attending the Grand Galloping Gala, thinking it will be the best night ever. In the first season finale "Best Night Ever", they attend the gala only to have their hopes crushed. Their attempts to make the Gala the best night ever lead to chaos and disaster.
    • "Call of the Cutie" revolves around a young pony, Apple Bloom, who is mercilessly teased because she does not have a cutie mark, signifying one's special talent in life. Sweetie Bell and Scootaloo defend her by stating that she is truly blessed because her journey to find herself still has infinite possibilities.
    • This is averted when the Crusaders finally earn their cutie marks in "Crusaders of the Lost Mark." They end up sharing the same special talent, which is helping other ponies discover their true talents. They embrace this wholeheartedly, and decide to continue on being Cutie Mark Crusaders.
      • The season 6 episode "On your Marks" deals with the fallout of this decision. They realize that their "special" talent isn't particularly useful, since most ponies don't have cutie mark related problems. Scootaloo even questions why they made such a big deal about getting their marks in the first place. They feel better after they finally find and help a pony with such a problem.
  • One episode of Little Bill had the main character begging his parents for a Captain Brainstorm video game. When he finally got it, he and his friends were rather disappointed at its primitive nature, preferring to use their imaginations to create their own Brainstorm adventures instead.
  • Used during a Robot Chicken sketch. After a flood wipes out The Smurfs' village, Gargamel finally achieves his goal of eating them. But as it turns out, food made from Smurfs doesn't seem to taste that good—he ends up throwing the food out and ordering Chinese take-out.
  • Thomas & Friends:
    • In "Thomas Goes Fishing", Thomas wishes he could go fishing when he sees people fishing at the river. He gets his wish one day when a water tower is out of order, and so his crew gather water from the river with a leaky bucket. Due to the bucket leaking, it takes several tries to refill Thomas' tank. Thomas' crew also manage to catch some fish in their bucket, which results in the fish making their way into Thomas' water tank and Thomas' boiler overheating, putting Thomas in pain. Sir Topham Hatt and Thomas' crew catch all the fish in Thomas' tank and have a lovely supper of fish and chips. After Sir Topham Hatt tells Thomas never to go fishing again since fish don't suit him, Thomas promises Sir Topham Hatt that he won't, since it's too uncomfortable.
    • In "A Scarf For Percy", on a cold winter's day, Percy wishes he could wear a scarf to keep his funnel warm. It doesn't help that every person on Sodor is wearing one wherever he goes. Near the end of the episode, while trying to sneak up on his coaches, Percy accidentally crashes into a baggage trolley and gets a pair of Sir Topham Hatt's trousers wrapped around his funnel, giving him the appearance of wearing a scarf. He gets scolded by Sir Topham Hatt for ruining his trousers and teased by James on his way back to Tidmouth Sheds. The next day, when Henry tells Percy that the weather will be warmer and he won't need a scarf, Percy tells him that engines don't need scarves, they need warm boilers.
    • In "Tender Engines", Henry is jealous of a visiting engine with two tenders (the two that No. 4472 Flying Scotsman carried while on tour in the '60s). Duck and Donald overhear and tell Henry they have six tenders for him to take. Once everyone has gathered to see him, Henry finds out the tenders are all old, grimy, and sludge-filled.
  • Doug helps Mr. Dink catch Chester, the fish that took his old wallet 30 years ago. Mr. Dink then gets upset because he will no longer have a reason to fish or buy more equipment. Doug tells him he can just throw the fish back, so he does.
  • In Aladdin: The Series, a man who spent years hunting a sand shark realizes that he has no idea what to do with his life after finally catching it. He sets the beast free so he can continue the hunt.
  • In the Franklin episode "Franklin's Test", Mr. Owl promises his students that he will give them pens if they get a perfect score on their spelling test. Franklin really wants a pen, but has trouble spelling the world "pencil". He writes the word "pencil" on a sticky note, inserts it in his cap, and looks at it during the test. Franklin wins the pen, but when Bear discovers that he had cheated, he returns the pen to Mr. Owl.
  • An episode of Family Guy has a Cutaway Gag where Peter and Chris do the shopping like Lois keeps telling them to, only for her to beat them up and say she likes complaining about them never doing it better than having them actually do it.
  • There's a short in Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy (basically a collection of cutaway gags that didn't make it on Family Guy) where Wile E. Coyote finally catches the Road Runner. He sinks into depression and almost commits suicide because his life lacks direction.
  • South Park: The Black Friday three parter leads to this. The kids are doing some serious LARP-ing inspired by Game of Thrones (and to a lesser extent, Lord of the Rings and other fantasies) that escalates into war between the Xbox One and Playstation 4, resulting in double-crossing and dubious affairs from not just them, but several adults. Their escalation leads to Sony execs and Bill Gates getting involved, with Gates killing the top Sony exec and declaring Xbox winning, making Cartman's side the victor. While the kids try to enjoy the Xbox One, they're too disturbed by the violence they seen in the name of consumption (Eric Cartman of all people notes Gates' murdering someone is burned into his head). He persuades the kids that they don't need the consoles to continue to play, instead choosing a stick. With the reveal the whole arc being the backstory behind South Park: The Stick of Truth.
  • In a Be Careful What You Wish For episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) the Turtles land in a world where they didn't exist, and Shredder conquered Earth singlehandedly. The Turtles find Shredder having to deal with the paperwork and responsibilities of managing Earth, and him realizing it was too much for him. When Shredder finds there is an Earth he hadn't conquered, he wants to go there and avoid this one (and possibly warn his counterpart it's not worth fulfilling the ambitions of world conquest). It technically counts for the Turtles as well, who ended up in that reality in the first place because they felt that the world would be better off without them. They change their tone when they see how bad things actually would have been if they never existed.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Grunkle Stan used to have a crush on a waitress named Lazy Susan. After Mabel helped him to get a date with her, he decided that she looked "weird up close," and bailed half-way through.
    • A far more tragic example occurs in season two: After spending thirty years trying to bring back his twin brother Ford from another dimension, Stan finally succeeds, only to be painfully reminded of how strained their relationship was, and still is.
  • This is basically the point of the "Waiting for the Fun to Start" song from the 2003 Strawberry Shortcake series.
    My favorite part of ridin' ain't the sweet sensation / The exhilaration when you feel your beating heart / My favorite part of ridin' is the preparation / While you're waitin' for the fun to start...
  • The 90s Mr. Men cartoon episode "Little Miss Star Goes To Jollywood" deconstructs her desire for fame when she has a nightmare where she is a star and she gets chased by journalists and photographers everywhere she goes.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Squidville", Squidward finally moves away from Conch Street into the titular neighborhood. At first, he enjoys himself immensely, but then he finds himself doing the same stuff over and over, day by day and realizes it's not really that great.
  • In "Darby's Pony" from My Friends Tigger & Pooh, when Darby talks with Pooh and Tigger about reading a book about ponies, they get the idea that she wants a pony herself. They therefore dress Eeyore up as a pony and present him to her. It turns out that Eeyore doesn't make a good pony and as Darby explains...
    Darby: But that's what makes reading so great. You can imagine anything you want. And that's what I like: imagining having a pony, not really having one.
    Real Life 
  • The personality trait cluster of Extraversion is born from individual differences in reward sensitivity - some people just like and/or want rewarding things more. The cluster splits into two subclusters, one called Assertiveness which emphasizes the wanting, and Enthusiasm, which emphasizes positive emotionality, and the liking part. This means real people can find liking better than wanting, on average, or the reverse: People who always thirst for more and never seem to be content with what they've acquired.


Video Example(s):


"The War on Christmas"

In "The War on Christmas", a man is gravely wounded by the heinous attack of being told "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" by a cashier. Years later, the first amendment had been removed so that this "tyranny" (as Pat Robertson calls it) ended, and that same man is not celebrating Christmas that year because the victim complex the "war" gave him gave his life meaning.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / WantingIsBetterThanHaving

Media sources: