Most animal and human behaviors emanate from goal-directedness and pleasure seeking, suggesting that they are primarily under conscious control. However, ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ are believed to be adaptive core subcortical processes working at an unconscious level and responsible for guiding behavior towards appropriate rewards. Here we examine whether ‘wanting’ is an inherent property of conscious goals and ‘liking’ an intrinsic component of conscious feelings. We argue that ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ depend on mechanisms acting below the level of consciousness, explaining why individuals often struggle to enhance or refrain their motivations and emotions by means of conscious control. In particular, hyperreactivity of subcortical ‘wanting’ systems has been tied to pathological behaviors such as drug addiction and gambling disorder. In addicts, cognitive processes intended to curb drug-seeking wage a constant battle against subcortical urges to take more drug that often ends in relapse following repeated assaults. Nevertheless, we suggest that in non-pathological contexts, ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ interact with major cognitive processes in order to guide goal-directed actions.