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Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?
Robert Browning
"And don't forget the presents. How... How full of potential them seem in all that paper, how pregnant with possibilities... and then you open them and basically the wrapping paper was more interesting and you have to say 'How thoughtful, that will come in handy!'"

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

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

In Real Life, this often leads to Hype Backlash

A Wish Fulfillment trope and a milder, non-magical form of Be Careful What You Wish For. Also see All That Glitters. May overlap with Lonely At the Top and Victory Is Boring.

Examples of Wanting Is Better Than Having include:


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!
  • Millennium Actress: The entire point of the film.
  • 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 most content forever to wait for Yuuko knowing she'll never return. Whether he wants to avoid all the Divide by Zero 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, died and passed on himself.

Comic Books

  Sandman: He didn't understand - mortals never do: the price of getting what you want is having what once you wanted.

  • Terry Sloane, the original Mister Terrific, had a backstory like this: He'd succeeded at everything he ever wanted to do, and with no more goals to strive for, his life was meaningless. He was contemplating suicide when he met a woman who was also suicidal for different reasons that convinced him to become a superhero.
  • Emperor Doom: This trope is the basic plotline of the graphic novel.
  • IDW's Transformers comics:

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.

Film

  • In Perfume, the Villain Protagonist spends most of the film creating the perfect perfume. Once he uses it, he decides that it doesn't really give him what he wants after all.
  • This is Megamind's problem in his movie after he's defeated Metro Man.
  • Downplayed for Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. He got what he wanted and is content that he's balanced the universe, but acquiring the Infinity Stones cost him everything he loved.

Literature

 "To love... pure and chaste from afar."

  "And bear in mind, my son, that a good hope is better than a bad holding, and a good grievance better than a bad compensation."

  • Jack Cohen's book The Privileged Ape was originally intended to be called The Ape Who Got What He Wanted with the implication that when he got it, he didn't want it anymore.
  • Anne of Green Gables: Anne tries to explain this philosophy to her foster mother Marilla, who doesn't get the point of flights of fancy and anticipation.
  • James Branch Cabell's novels are full of this trope, but the eponymous protagonist of Jurgen learns it so hard that he walks up to his true love's bed, lifts the cover, and leaves her sleeping. He is, after all, a Monstrous Clever Fellow.
  • The Pilgrims Regress by CS Lewis: Subverted; one character gives voice to the sentiment that "It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive," as this trope claims. His companion (the one who’s views on the question agree with Lewis's own) responds that a rational person who really believed that the destination isn't as good as the journey would no longer be hoping to arrive at the destination--and thus, would no longer be "traveling hopefully."
  • Battle Circle, Piers Anthony's post-apocalyptic trilogy is made of this trope. No one ever seems to get what they (used to) want, except in the worst possible/least satisfying way. Overused to the point of a Broken Aesop ("Desire only leads to disappointment.")
  • 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.

Live Action TV

  • My Name Is Earl: when Earl was in a coma he dreamed of being married to Billie (Alyssa Milano) and it was awesome! Then he recovered and actually married her, and it was... not awesome.
  • In season 4 of News Radio, Lisa is desperate to learn Jimmy's "secret of management". Dave accurately points out that she doesn't want to know.
  • Spock to Stonn in the Star Trek the Original Series 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."
  • Young Pete from The Adventures of Pete and Pete spends an entire episode daydreaming about and saving up for a jetpack sold in the back of a comic book. The jetpack turns out to be...a leafblower.
  • JD in Scrubs is usually only interested in Elliot when she's not in a relationship with him. The fact that he never learns that he only wants what he can't have is frequently pointed out to him.
  • In Boston Legal, Denny tells Alan that "it's better to want a woman you can't have than to have a woman you don't want."
  • Doctor Mikoto Nakadai from Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger had a similar problem to Mister Terrific. He was naturally good at anything he tried, due to being the host for half of the series' main villain, and spent most of his life bored out of his skull from the lack of challenge. When he found the dangerous prototype Transformation Trinket, he became a supervillain rather than a good guy because it was more fun, and learning that the device will eventually explode only made it more exciting.
  • Much of Oscar Lomax's plot line in the first season of Psychoville is based around his obsessive quest for a "commodity", Snappy the Crocodile. When he finally acquires it, he chucks it into the ocean, revealing that he had completed his collection on at least one previous occasion, but had found that actually completing his quest left him bereft of purpose and nearly suicidal.
  • In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, one of Dark Mercury's goals is to kill Sailor Moon. When she believes she's succeeded, she goes into BSOD and reverts back to normal.
    • Also, through most of the show, Kunzite tries to kill Mamoru, but when Mamoru's about to get killed by Jadeite, Kunzite saves him.

Music

  • "After The Thrill Is Gone" by The Eagles is about this trope.
  • "After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It", a song from the 1920s, exposes the trope perfectly.

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...
    • He and Hobbes discuss this trope more directly in a later strip, where Calvin decides the moral of "wanting is excited, having is boring" is that you must never stop buying new things.

 Hobbes: I feel like I'm in some stockholder's dream.

Calvin: Waste and want, that's my motto!

  • 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, replusive penguin named Eunice.

Theater

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • In The Powerpuff Girls, a collector of Powerpuff Girls' merchandise freaks out and turns into a villain when his collection is complete. (Well, almost complete - he just needs to collect the actual Powerpuff Girls.)
  • In one Kim Possible episode, Bonnie achieves her ambition of wresting the cheer squad captaincy away from Kim, then learns to her dismay that having the job means continuing the hard work she did to get the job. The next time we see the cheer squad, Kim is back in charge.
  • Recess: the kids discover a cool fort to hang out in, only to have it promptly stolen from them by bullies. After spending the whole episode trying to win it back, afterwards they realize that it was more fun trying to take back the fort than actually hanging out in it. They promptly call up the bullies to try and take it back from them.
  • In the third episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic "Ticket Master", the ponies all look forward to attending the Grand Galloping Gala, thinking it will be the best night ever. In the first season finale "Best Night Ever", they attend the gala only to have their hopes crushed. Their attempts to make the Gala the best night ever lead to chaos and disaster which Princess Celestia was hoping would happen since it would liven up the normally dull event.
  • One episode of Little Bill had the main character begging his parents for a Captain Brainstorm video game. When he finally got it, he and his friends were rather disappointed at its primitive nature, preferring to use their imaginations to create their own Brainstorm adventures instead.
  • Used during a Robot Chicken sketch. After a flood wipes out The Smurfs' village, Gargamel finally achieves his goal of eating them. As it turns out, they taste really bad. He throws the food out, and orders Chinese.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine: 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.

Real Life

  • From a psychology standpoint this is true. Your brain responds more positively to imagining something good than it does actually receiving it. A study cited in this Cracked article suggests taking shorter vacations more frequently instead of fewer longer ones, since the satisfaction and happiness levels were at their highest before the trip when the person is in anticipation mode.
  • Every birthday/Christmas/Hannukah/whatever has at least one present which fits this trope.
  • This trope is somewhat hinted at by the third (and supposedly most severe) of three Chinese curses, "May you find what you are looking for."
  • Obviously any Romance and Marriage. Many want it as and think of it to be a magical thing, then they realize it is something you have to actually maintain with actual hard work and true dedication, then it suddenly loses its appeal when you have it. The divorce rates reflect this. People who knows what it takes usually avoid this however.
    • It's not especially uncommon for a man to cheat on his wife, leave the wife for the mistress, then cheat on the mistress. She seemed so alluring when the relationship was forbidden...
  • Sex.
    • Similarly, dating, relationships, and the pursuit and acquisition of a "significant other".
  • At least a few people mentioned that this happened to Duke Nukem Forever. Because the game had been in Development Hell for over ten years, we got massive Hype Backlash.
  • Babies. Many young teenage girls and adults fantasize about becoming mothers without thinking of the financial burdens that they will face after their babies are born, and all of the attention and hard work that is required to take care of a baby.
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