What is it that drives an average person to go and buy a glass box, fill it full of water, rock, and sand and turn it into a marine aquarium?

Of course the aesthetics of seeing a tank in person, a reef tank for that matter, strikes in some of us some kind of primordial-DNA urge to have that in your own house or home. It's some kind of spiritual connection, one that doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone. Many travel this path but few succeed long-term. For those that have stuck with the hobby for a long time there seems to be the underlying urge to be responsible and take care of what we took on. Whether it's a beautiful display tank at your local fish store, a public aquarium, at a fellow hobbyist house or beautiful pictures of the most coral packed system, it drives us to want to give it a go and say "I want this too!"

But why? Why do we do this?

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Mental conditioning

I believe that a lot of reefers have other pets or that grew up in households that had or have pets now. Let's face it we are creatures of our environments. We do learn from examples of others and how we were taught growing up at early ages. We've learned to care for ourselves, the loved ones around us and our pets. It's a natural human emotion to care and protect. Our pets then take on a "one of the family" persona. A reef aquarium as a whole is a living ecosystem. It relies on us to keep it alive. Ponder that the next time that you go to buy a very expensive frag or fish for your tank!

The emotions of accomplishment.

As human beings, we are actively seeking out approval for our actions.

It doesn't matter if it's something we've done before or if it's something brand new, we all feel good when someone gives us praise. Let's face it, keeping a reef tank is not an easy task and does take a great deal of time and patience, but it just reaffirms our passion and commitment when someone says "Wow, that's amazing!" or "I didn't know you could keep that!" or "You did all this by yourself?" These comments make us swell inside with pride and accomplishment. Whether it's friends, family or fellow reefers, praise and acknowledgement of accomplishment is highly prized. It just feels good, and it should!

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The emotions of failure.

We've all been there. It's bound to happen and we all know how it feels.

Failure comes in different forms and the term is used in different contexts. Whether it's from our own negligence, lack of knowledge or something out of our control, failure is still failure. It's depressing, can be emotionally draining and can affect the ones around us negatively if we don't deal with it positively. Failure is an opportunity for learning and growth, albeit the hard way. It may be difficult to accept and even more difficult to reach out and talk about it. But it's better to let it out and get it out of your system. Acceptance of the failure is a step in the right direction. It's a pathway to teach others of what to look for, what not to do and what to do.

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On an island.

If your significant others, family or friends were asked how they feel about your hobby, you will get different answers from most hobbyists. It runs the gamut from participatory, indifference, to contempt.

And each comes with its plusses and minuses.

Vast numbers of hobbyists feel alone with little or no one to share and talk about the their tank. Reef keeping is a constant learning experience, and we want and need to learn and talk about it. Local clubs, LFS's, coral swaps, trade shows and forums such as Reef2reef are excellent ways to communicate and share your experiences. With tens of thousands of reef hobbyist in the world, you're definitely not on an island.

Policy of truth.

Reef keeping isn't cheap and lack of honesty about your expenditures can cause you to do things that you wouldn't normally do, like lie or hide spending from your significant other or family members. I'll be quite honest, this is really no way to live, with all due respect. The hobby can entice and tempt us to spend money in irresponsible ways. It happens to all of us, so you're not alone.

Taking a page from the basics of reef keeping, slow and steady should be applied to anything that we desire and wish to buy. Especially anything wet that we want to put it in our systems. Research and planning go hand-in-hand with spending money and budgeting with our finances helps reduce the guilt that sometimes we feel. So, slow down and save for planned additions. You'll be happier, your significant other as well, and your wallet will be too!

The dark side of the hobby.

With knowledge and experience comes power and strength. As with all human beings, we can choose how to express our power and knowledge. As we all know, reefing can be done many different ways and still be successful, but some people have an agenda. When discussing aspects of the hobby with them they can become adamant, forceful and downright rude as their opinions are gospel and opposite opinions do not set well with them. Falling into the rabbit hole with them always ends up in an argument. This can cause feelings and emotions of anger, sadness and disgust. You won't change their point of view no matter how hard you try.

The lesson to be taken from all this is to agree to disagree respectfully, and disengage from the discussion. Do your own research, formulate your own opinions from your experiences and what you've learned. This is how the hobby has grown over decades, with hobbyists learning a new way to have a reef tank and sharing with others.

Conscious or subconscious decision making.

The emotions of making decisions in the hobby go from personal responsibility to indifference. These decisions can and often are driven by personal finances, but can come from ones moral compass as well. Do I support my LFS or buy online? Or both? Do I buy a fish or coral that isn't right for my system, when I know it isn't right? Etc....

Here I will interject my feelings: support your LFS as often as you can and as much as is possible. They are the backbone of the hobby. If they didn't exist, it wouldn't be the same! If the time comes when you need something in pinch, they are just a drive away. Do support them often.

Being persuaded or allowing influence by others can cause us to do things that "doesn't feel right". We've all felt that urge to do something that at the time just felt off. It's like the little devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. One is saying "it's okay, do it!" and the other saying "slow down, think about it!" It can be tough at times to do the right thing. Once again, slow and steady wins every time.

In closing, I'm not a psychiatrist, and I definitely don't have all the answers to how anyone feels about the hobby at any given time. It's a fluid thing! No pun intended! But I've been around the hobby long enough and have seen a thing or two and have experienced all of the above.

Happy reefing!


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Author Profile: @Flippers4pups

@Flippers4pups has been an avid keeper of marine aquariums for 24 years and loves to share his passion for the hobby with one and all. He's a Reef Squad Leader here on Reef2reef and spends his free time helping hobbyists in their salty adventure. A link to his current tank build is here.
And his reef squad profile is here.