Albino Acarichthys heckelii Cichlid in an aquarium

Every hobby is different, but each one has its own sets of challenges and rewards. To those outside of a given hobby, it can be hard to understand what it is that makes us struggle through these challenges and not simply move on to something else. What is it that drives us to push through and invest our time, energy, and money into keeping fish? The answer will always be different for each person, but there are several common reasons that we see in the hobby.

1. We want to connect with nature

Perhaps the primary reason many of us keep aquariums is because it offers a window into a part of the natural world that we wouldn’t otherwise see. We are increasingly finding ourselves living in cities, separated from much of nature. The convenience provided by cities is a strong motivator, or even necessity, for many of our life choices, and yet there is often a part of us that longs for a connection with nature. Aquariums can bridge the gap between these two motivating forces.

Owning an aquarium provides us the ability to watch a fish in its tank and be reminded of what exists when we escape from city life. Some hobbyists take this desire even further, taking extreme care to create as authentic of a replication of a slice of nature as possible. We are increasingly seeing hobbyists wanting to learn about biotopes so that the glass box in their living rooms can truly become a slice of a river in Brazil, a lake in Africa, or a hillstream in Asia.

2. To bring some beauty into our lives

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, aquariums have the potential to be a stunning visual display. Just think of an aquarium, several hundred gallons large, teeming with the colors and movements of a living reef. Corals, fish, shrimp, crabs and other animals form an entire oceanic ecosystem living together in harmony.

There are countless different options we can use to set up our tanks. Perhaps it’s the artistic, nature-inspired, planted aquascapes popularized by Takashi Amano that we find appealing: a wash of green with carefully arranged plants and rocks, and schools of small fish exploring the tank, creating the impression of an underwater world.

Or, maybe it’s a minimalist sensibility that draws us in: a recessed tank, empty and dark except for a subdued blue glow seemingly emanating from gently pulsing jellyfish.

The point is, there are many designs that allow us to speak intimately to our style and interests. Trying to satisfy a particular visual appeal may not be enough to fully justify keeping an aquarium, but it can often be a factor that keeps us invigorated and continuing in the hobby.

3. We want something to care for

Many of us have an inherent need to care for things. We often have a drive to pour ourselves into providing for something and watching it grow and thrive. This process makes us feel important and accomplished, and it allows us to see the direct results of our actions and decisions.

Many times, we can see this in the pets people choose to keep. It’s one of the reasons that can lead people to garden or to try to grow bonsai trees. It could even be argued that it is what drives certain people into certain professions. Our inherent desires to take control of something and watch it thrive and succeed can be an enormously satisfying drive.

4. It provides a challenge

There are a number of us who are motivated to continue by the sheer desire of conquering a challenge. Many of us have a competitive side which drives us to do something better than other aquarists. Sometimes this is breeding a fish that has never been bred before. Sometimes this is building the largest tank possible and keeping the largest fish that will fit in it. Sometimes this is trying to figure out what is required to successfully care for a fish that is generally viewed as “impossible” to keep. And with easy access to share our successes by way of forums and social media, we are seeing some rapid improvements in husbandry, equipment, and methods driven by hobbyists.

5. We like to create

Similar to our desire to care for something, many of us derive significant satisfaction from creating and building things. We love being able to take an idea, use our hands and minds to solve the problem, and end up with something we can look at and be proud of. This can be a driving motivator outside of the hobby as well. Simply think about those who like to rebuild classic cars or use scraps of wood to make furniture.

In the aquarium hobby, this same drive can be seen in a number of different ways. For some, this means choosing the pieces we want to use and turning them into an entire ecosystem. For others, it’s tinkering with their aquarium and filtration in order to optimize plumbing, pumps, and other equipment to be more efficient or better managed. Some take this to the extreme, trying to create systems that have never existed before by tying in electronics and automation to more precisely meet the needs of their fish.

As hobbyists, we are all well aware of the personal enjoyment that we get from keeping aquariums, but it’s often interesting to look to other hobbyists and see what drives them. Our motivations may be a little bit different. None of us fit solely into any one of these labels, and there are likely hobbyists that don’t fit into any of them. There’s no better way to be inspired and grow in the hobby than to view things through someone else’s eyes.