Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel shared a wonderful discovery in his book The Future for Investors. The greatest long-term returns typically don't come from the most innovative companies, or even companies with the highest earnings growth. They come from companies that happen to crank out dividends year after year. Simply put, since the 1950s, "the portfolios with higher dividend yields offered investors higher returns."

Market commentary regularly centers on price gyrations, yet dividends have historically accounted for more than half of total returns.

Reinvest those dividends, and the gains get even greater. Take Sensient Technologies (NYSE: SXT), for example. Since the late 1970s, the company's share price has increased 1,500%. But add in reinvested dividends, and total returns jump to over 5,000%:

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. 

There's no ambiguity here: Over time, Sensient's share appreciation alone has paled in importance to the power of its reinvested dividends. The results are similar for others such as Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) and International Flavors & Fragrances (NYSE: IFF); reinvested dividends skew both companies' total returns dramatically higher. If you're a long-term shareholder, don't worry about daily share wobbles. Devote your attention those dividend payouts, and your commitment to reinvest them.

And how do Sensient's dividends look? At 2.7%, its yield is slightly above the market average. The company has paid a dividend every year for 23 years. Dividends have used up roughly 40% of free cash flow in recent years -- a rather conservative figure that should allow Sensient to continue its history of strong solid dividend payouts for years to come.

To earn the greatest returns, get your priorities straight. What the market does is less important than what your company earns. What your company earns is less important than how much it pays out in dividends. And what it pays out in dividends is less important than whether you reinvest those dividends.                                                                                       

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @TMFHousel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.