At a February 2008 concert in Las Vegas, Jewel explained that when she was 18, she was living in a van and did some shoplifting. She was going to take a dress when she looked at her hands and realized that she controlled them. Said Jewel, "I realized I was cheating myself. No matter how you work with your hands your own dignity is up to you."
Jewel wrote the track with keyboardist/music producer Patrick Leonard. In part, the lyrics of this song are based upon the poem Poverty by Pablo Neruda.
On December 19, 1998, Jewel performed this in front of The Pope at the "Natale In Vaticano" concert in Vatican City, Italy. She was backed by a choir and a 100-piece orchestra.
In the mid-late '90s, many record companies didn't release popular songs as singles in the US in an effort to boost album sales. That was Atlantic's strategy with Spirit, and it worked, with the album selling over three million copies in America.
Radio play was key to an album's success, however, so "Hands" was sent to stations as a promotional single so they could play it on the air. In December 1998, Billboard made songs that weren't released as singles eligible for the Hot 100. "Hands" went to #6 in January 1999, making it one of the first songs to place high on the chart from just airplay alone.
In the Nick Brandt-directed music video, Jewel confronts the tragedy of an apartment building collapse and helps search for survivors while others walk away.
Jewel performed this on Late Night with David Letterman a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The song was a popular choice on the radio when a DJ remixed the track after the tragedy.
A Christmas version was included on Jewel's 1999 album, Joy: A Holiday Collection.
This was used twice on Dawson's Creek, on the 1998 episode "Full Moon Rising" and on the 2003 series finale "...Must Come to an End." It was also featured on the 2004 Cold Case episode "Resolutions."