FRIDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Religious people outnumber and are happier than atheists in societies facing hardship or conflict, a new study indicates.

In more stable, peaceful nations, however, researchers noted no such link.

Not only are fewer people religious in more stable societies, but they're happier than those in regions where there's hardship and strife, regardless of their religious beliefs.

"Circumstances predict religiousness," study leader Ed Diener, a University of Illinois emeritus professor of psychology and senior scientist with the Gallup Organization, said in a news release. "Difficult circumstances lead more strongly to people being religious. And in religious societies and in difficult circumstances, religious people are happier than nonreligious people. But in nonreligious societies or more benign societies where many people's needs are met, religious people aren't happier -- everyone's happier."

In conducting the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers analyzed data from the 2005-2009 Gallup World Poll -- a survey of people in more than 150 countries that included questions about religion, life satisfaction and social support.

Globally, the researchers found that religion helps support the emotional well-being of people living without basic necessities, such as food, jobs, health care, security and education. Religious people living in religious societies are more likely to feel well respected and experience fewer negative feelings than those who are not religious.

In contrast, although all people living in wealthier, secular societies are better off and have more positive feelings, religious people report having more negative feelings than those who are not religious.

The researchers also examined 2009 U.S. Gallup polling data and found similar trends among Americans. In states with smaller economies and a lack of social programs, people who are religious outnumber those who are not. Religious people also report being happier in these more stressful environments.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians provides more information on coping with stress.