The song received positive reviews from critics, who applauded its instrumentation. It became a commercial success, charting in the top ten in the United States and Australia, and also charting in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and New Zealand. In 2001, the song was certified 2x Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) and also became the most played radio track of that year in the United States. The official music video for the song premiered on Vh1.com on December 7, 2000. In the video, Wade is seen singing the lyrics of the song in many locations around a town. The band went on tours with Matchbox Twenty and 3 Doors Down as an opening act before going on their first headline tour that featured American rock band The Calling and American singer-songwriter Michelle Branch.
"I was eight songs into finishing the record, doing a vocal, and I heard the melody in my head before it was written. I couldn't tell if it was a song on the radio that I had heard or if it was a song my friend wrote or something. I picked up a guitar and it was kind of creepy, because the song was almost already written by itself. Within five minutes, the lyrics and everything else were finished. We tracked it the next week and it ended up being the first single. It was funny, because I felt there was another song that needed to be written during the project that was more upbeat and less moody."
—Wade talking about the development of "Hanging by a Moment".
The song was written by Lifehouse lead singer Jason Wade. It was produced by American record producer Ron Aniello and was mixed by Brendan O'Brien. When asked about the song in an interview with Billboard, Wade said, "It was the most uptempo, radio-friendly song. We all decided it was the right choice to release it as the first single." He went on to describe his expectations when writing songs, saying, "My ultimate goal in writing songs is to connect with people. In the lyrics, you don't tell the whole picture: You give a road to start on that people can relate to. We're honest, nice guys and I hope that comes across in everything we do." After being asked how he wrote the song in an interview with Launch, Wade explained, "I wrote that song without thinking about what was gonna happen to it and then it just kinda took over from there." He also said in the interview that he wrote "Hanging by a Moment" in about five minutes.
"Hanging by a Moment" was described as a post-grunge and alternative rock song that contains a strong melody. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the song is set in common time with a "moderate rock" tempo of 124 beats per minute. It is composed in the key of D major with Wade's vocal range spanning from the low-note of A3 to the high-note of G5. In an interview with Billboard, lead singer and guitarist of Lifehouse, Jason Wade, described the song as an "uptempo, radio-friendly song". Bill Lamb of About.com called the song "one of the biggest rock hits ever by a Contemporary Christian band crossing over into the mainstream. The song was the biggest hit of summer 2001 and was eventually named the most played song of the year on the radio." The song was described by John DiBiase of Jesus Freak Hideout as "a song [that is] clearly a cry out to God". Sean Rizzo of Sputnikmusic says that the song "presents one of the best with the guitar’s plucking during the verses and a chorus infectious enough to infiltrate your brain for a few days."
"Hanging by a Moment" debuted at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of February 10, 2001. It gradually ascended on the chart and eventually peaked at number two on June 16, 2001, just behind the 2001 cover version of "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil' Kim, and Mýa. After its peak, it gradually descended and left the chart after 55 consecutive weeks on February 16, 2002. The song was also a huge hit on rock radio holding number one for three weeks beginning on January 27, 2001. On the BillboardAlternative Songs chart, the song debuted at number 36 for the week of October 28, 2000 and eventually peaked at number one after it stayed on the chart for 36 non-consecutive weeks. The song debuted at number 32 on the BillboardPop Songs chart during the week of March 3, 2001. After moving around the chart for 37 consecutive weeks, the song managed to peak at number two on May 19, 2001. On the BillboardRadio Songs chart, "Hanging by a Moment" debuted at number 70 for the week of February 10, 2001. After moving around the chart for 55 consecutive weeks, the song eventually peaked at number one on July 14, 2001. The song debuted at number 37 on the BillboardAdult Pop Songs chart for the week of February 24, 2001. It eventually peaked at number one on June 23, 2001 after it spent 74 consecutive weeks on the chart. "Hanging by a Moment" became the most played song of 2001 and made Lifehouse the first male rock group to make the annual recap since Chicago did in 1989 with "Look Away."
The song also achieved international success. In Australia, the song debuted at number 36 on the ARIA Charts during the week of June 17, 2001. It has since peaked at number one, after being on the chart for 24 consecutive weeks. Because of its success in Australia, "Hanging by a Moment" was certified 2x Platinum by the ARIA in 2001. It debuted on The Netherlands' Mega Single Top 100 chart at number 95 for the week of June 9, 2001. The song has since peaked at number 31. On the New Zealand Singles Chart, "Hanging by a Moment" debuted at number 48 for the week of March 11, 2001. After being on the chart for 31 consecutive weeks, it eventually peaked at number six. The song debuted at number 25 on the UK Singles Chart for the week of September 8, 2001, which became its peak position after it spent one week on the chart.
Former Lifehouse bassist Sergio Andrade (left) and Lifehouse lead singer Jason Wade (right) perform in front of a crowd in a restaurant in the music video.
The music video, directed by Gavin Bowden, was first released December 7, 2000 on Vh1.com. It served as an official video for the song, after an unofficial version was released by DreamWorks as a "temporary video" that was played on MTV2. In an interview with MTV Radio, Wade explained the process of making the music video, and said, "We shot the video at this really cool place in Crenshaw, in L.A., that was a bowling alley upstairs and a roller rink downstairs. It had this really weird, retro vibe to it. When they were setting up the different sets, we'd have to stop every 10 seconds because a bowling league would walk in. It was the coolest thing. At night, we got all of our friends to come down."
The video begins with Wade singing and playing his guitar in a hotel room. While singing, Wade is seen packing his clothes into a suit case in separate camera shots. He then leaves the hotel room and it shows a time-lapse scene of a car going down a highway. Then, the video cuts to a restaurant, where Wade is seen lying on a restaurant booth and singing the lyrics of the song. After this, Wade is seen with the rest of Lifehouse in a concert setting in a restaurant. It then splits to shots of Wade singing the lyrics of the song to the camera. Toward the end of the video, it switches to Lifehouse playing the song in front of a crowd while showing shots of Wade in a car going down a highway. It ends with the scene of Lifehouse in a restaurant and then switches to a camera shot of all of the band members with the video fading out on Wade.
On January 10, 2001, MTV confirmed that Lifehouse would serve as an opening act on a fourteen-day tour for Matchbox Twenty, who were promoting their album Mad Season (2000). The tour started February 27, 2001 in Minneapolis and ended on March 29, 2001 in Universal City. While on tour with Matchbox Twenty, Lifehouse went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for the first time and performed "Hanging by a Moment" on March 28, 2001. Several months later, the band performed the song at the River Rave Festival in Foxboro Stadium on May 26, 2001. In July 2001, Lifehouse went on tour with 3 Doors Down as an opening act on twelve select dates, and performed songs from No Name Face, including "Hanging by a Moment".