Times have been tough for investors over the past year. The three major indexes hit bear territory -- and some of the world's strongest stocks sank.

But here are two pieces of good news. First, these difficult periods don't last forever. And second, there's a way to cushion your portfolio from the shock. And by this, I mean investing in dividend stocks.

These players will offer you passive income that's much appreciated during bad times -- and this income is a plus during good times, too. Whether the market downturn continues this year or the market recovers and thrives, you won't regret owning the following three stocks during 2023 and beyond.

1. Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 1.49%) has lifted its dividend for more than 50 consecutive years. That puts it on the list of Dividend Kings.

What does this track record mean for you? It means you can probably count on continued dividend growth. That's because J&J has shown that rewarding shareholders is an important part of its strategy.

The pharmaceutical giant pays an annual dividend of $4.52 per share. The dividend yield is 2.61%, well above the average of 2.15% according to NYU's Stern Business School. So, even if stocks in your portfolio decline, you'll still benefit from recurrent income from J&J.

J&J also offers a track record of earnings growth -- and this could be getting even better. I'll explain. This year, J&J is spinning off its consumer health business into a separate entity. That means it will focus on its two higher-growth businesses: pharmaceuticals and medtech. This should boost earnings moving forward. And that could translate into share performance over time.

2. Abbott Laboratories

Abbott Laboratories (ABT 1.91%) also has increased its dividend for more than 50 years. The company recently lifted its quarterly payment by 8.5%. Abbott said the move represents its "long-standing commitment to sustainable growth and shareholder returns." 

The healthcare company pays an annual dividend of $2.04. That's at a dividend yield of 1.83%. And Abbott's growth in free cash flow shows it has what it takes to continue rewarding shareholders.

ABT Free Cash Flow Chart

ABT Free Cash Flow data by YCharts

Like J&J, Abbott offers you another big reason to invest. And that's its earnings strength over time and potential to keep that going. Abbott has four businesses: medical devices, diagnostics, established pharmaceuticals, and nutrition.

This offers a big advantage. If one business faces a challenge, the others can compensate. We've seen that as sales in the nutrition business fell in the first nine months of last year due to a product recall -- but sales in the other units climbed.

So, moving forward, you can benefit from Abbott more than one way. You can count on passive income growth and earnings growth over time. And Abbott shares are likely to climb over the long term too.

3. Target

Target (TGT 1.03%) is another stock on the Dividend King list. The retailer today pays an annual dividend of $4.32 at a yield of 2.70%.

In the third-quarter earnings call, Target said it aims "to support our dividend and build on our 50-year record of annual dividend increases." Target paid nearly $500 million in dividends in the quarter. That's a 13% increase from the year-earlier period. All of this means there's reason to be confident about passive income growth into the future.

Target shares slipped last year as investors shied away from companies sensitive to the economy.

The company faced higher costs, and its shoppers began looking more and more for bargains. That weighed on Target's operating margin.

Still, Target managed to grow comparable revenue -- in fact, it climbed for the 22nd consecutive quarter. It gained market share across all of its merchandise categories. And the company said it was launching a plan to maximize efficiency. That could save as much as $3 billion in the coming three years.

So, an investment in Target now represents access to passive income growth right away -- and an opportunity to benefit from Target's bright growth prospects down the road.